VATICAN - Pope Francis, who has penned weighty encyclicals and decrees, has taken a stab at the simpler side of his job with a book for children to answer such questions as ''What did God do before the world was made?''
That question was put to him by 8-year-old Ryan K., from Canada. Like the other questions in the book, it was written above a simple drawing - in this case, Ryan's rough sketch of a bearded God standing on a globe surrounded by gold stars.
The pope's answer, written in a few sentences on the opposite page, was that God "created time" but that most of all "he loved".
The book, called "Dear Pope Francis," was a brainchild of Father Antonio Spadaro, a priest and editor of the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica who was the first person to interview Francis after his election in 2013.
Spadaro brought the pope the 31 drawings and questions by children from around the world and Francis dictated his responses in simple language.
Natasha, 8, from Kenya, asks for an explanation of the Bible story about how Jesus walked on water (Because God can do anything).
Others wanted to know if dead relatives can watch over them from heaven? (certainly); why does he wear that big hat? (Because he's a bishop), and what miracle would he perform if he had only one chance? (Cure sick children).
Basia, 8, from Poland asked what he wanted to be when he was her age. Answer: He wanted to become a butcher.
Not all the questions were light, however.
Mohamed, 10, from Syria, asks if the world will ever be beautiful again. The pope tells him his suffering will not last forever.
Perhaps the most poignant question is from an 8-year-old Australian boy named Luca. "Dear Pope Francis, My mum is in Heaven. Will she grow angel wings?"
Francis answers that no, she won't grow wings but "she is the mother you know but more beautiful than ever ... smiling and full of love for you."