To drum up interest in the historic papal election, religion teacher Jane Wagemaker assigned seventh- and eighth-grade students at Nativity of Mary Catholic school in Bloomington to research the six front-runners reportedly in line to replace Pope Benedict.
The students had to figure out whom they would vote for if they were among cardinals deciding the matter this week. They could vote for cardinals who were not among the front-runners. And they were directed to write a paragraph on the reasoning for their choice.
So did any of the 65-odd students make the right pick?
Like other Catholics raptly watching the papal selection Wednesday, Wagemaker and her students were stunned to see Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerge as the new pope because he wasn’t among the top candidates mentioned in media reports.
Initially, when the students heard the new pope was from Argentina, they got excited because one of the six front-runners was also an Argentine (Leonardo Sandri). Then they realized it was a different Argentine cardinal, Wagemaker said.
“We were disappointed in a way,” said Wagemaker. “But when we saw him and we saw that he took the name Francis ... Francis is one of our top saints here. We love Francis.”
“They [students] know so much about him, about how humble he was, how he helped the poor and he talked to the animals. So that was exciting for us, too, because no one has ever picked Francis before.”
The excitement built when they learned about the new pope. “Then we found out what a humble person he is, that he helps the poor ... it just seems like a whole turnaround from Benedict, who was such a scholar.”
Wagemaker has now directed her students to find out all they can about the new pope.
“They got really excited about the process. It was pretty awesome. ... What we’re doing now is looking at the news, seeing which direction he’s going to go, what he’s going to do first. We’re observing right now.”