TEMPLE TERRACE — They wanted their 50th anniversary celebration to be like no other. So the students at Corpus Christi Catholic School in Temple Terrace went right to the A-list.
They invited the pope.
And they did it in memorable fashion. Every student from kindergarten to eighth grade — 247 in all — penned a handwritten letter requesting His Eminence's presence.
Sixth-graders added a little flair. They wrote their invites in Spanish, Pope Francis's first language.
“We figured, 'Why not?' The kids are proud of their school and they want to show it off,' says principal Carmen Caltagirone.
So, is the Holy Father coming?
If you attend (which would be great), make sure you have a paragraph of your holy life to share with the congregation. Avery Pena, Grade 3
We know you like children, sweets and holy things like the cross and Jesus, our Savior. Isabella Machado, Grade 4
When you do come, you should come to second grade. I have glasses and my name is Landon Higgins. Landon Higgins, Grade 2
Corpus Christi was founded in 1964 with four grades taught by lay teachers. Two years later, they were joined by members of the Sisters of Notre Dame religious order. The school's mission is to provide a Catholic educational experience in “spirituality, scholarship and service.”
Caltagirone thought it was a dandy idea to invite the pope to Saturday's Jubilee Mass, which will celebrate all who have been part of the school's success over the last five decades: priests, principals, teachers, staff, parents, alumni, parishioners and community members.
A singular invitation wouldn't do.
“I'm a stickler for handwritten notes. They give a real personal touch,” she says.
What she didn't expect was how heartfelt the letters would be.
“I took them home on a Friday night expecting to just skim through them, and I ended up reading every single one,” the principal says. “It became apparent just how much this pope is already connecting with the younger generation.”
In mid-December, Caltagirone bundled up all the notes, wrote a cover letter and sent them directly to the Vatican.
You are not rich….you know how those of us in the middle class live. We all know you are the best pope yet! Will Ankers, Grade 5
Everybody in our school wants to see God's new pope. Alex Lombardi, Grade 1
It would mean the world to me and my school if you could attend. I know you won't regret it at all! There are probably a hundred other schools that ask you to come and see them, but we are not like any other school. We all want to come to school each day, and for a kid, that's huge. Madison Belusic, Grade 7
Frances Farina is one of those parents who will be celebrated at the Jubilee Mass for countless hours of volunteerism at the school.
She agrees with the students: Corpus Christi is a special place. She and her husband, Thomas, sent all three of their children there. Then their two daughters, who live locally, enrolled their three children in the grade school.
And now, improbably, Farina is a Corpus Christi parent again — at age 68. They adopted their grand-niece, now a 6-year-old first-grader, a few years ago. Farina is back to being a lunchroom volunteer and helping out wherever else she is needed.
“You're not just a number here,” she says. “Everybody knows your name. It's like a close-knit family.”
Corpus Christi gave her children and grandchildren a “solid spiritual and educational foundation” — which she says helped them succeed in life.
“Did I think I'd be back at this age? Are you kidding?” she asks. “But I'm happy to be part of this place. It's given so much to our family, so I'm returning that favor.”
Me gustaria que usted viniera a mi escuela porque es bonita y tiene ninos que aman a Papa Dios. Humberto Ferrer, Grade 6
I love God and this school taught me how to love God. If you can't come, I would understand. I know how hard it is to be a pope. Olivia Kopp, Grade 5
Having you, the Pope, come to our celebration would give us all a wonderful story to tell our kids one day. Nicole Cufino, Grade 8.
Just days before the big event, there's still no word from the Vatican.
The Tampa Tribune called Rome to see if the papal response got lost in the mail.
“They sent the package in December? Now that's a problem,” says the Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. “Our postal service is iffy at best, and it's disastrous around the Christmas season.”
That remark was confirmed by The Rome File, an Internet site for visitors and expatriates living in the Italian capitol. “Like many of the Italian public services, Italy's postal system is a source of despair among Italians and visitors alike,” the site reports.
Tighe says even if the package has arrived, it's likely buried under “mountains of stuff” coming in on a daily basis. Since the pope's election on March 13, it's been “impossible” to keep up with all the prayer requests, questions that need answers, invitations to events and the expressions of support for the church's new spiritual leader.
But Tighe promises Corpus Christi will get a response, “just probably not in time for the Mass.”
“It will get opened and processed eventually,” he says of the package. “And we will acknowledge it. There's a big effort here to stay engaged with the community. That's an important priority.”
Though Pope Francis would be sorely missed, the Mass must go on. So on Wednesday, the students filed into the church to rehearse their roles for the Jubilee.
After all, there are other high-profile guests to consider. Like Frank Chillura, mayor of Temple Terrace, whose seventh-grader attends the school.
Meanwhile, Corpus Christi is planning its fundraising Annual Gala on April 12 at Saddlebrook Resort. Would Pope Francis be welcome at that event?
“Absolutely. We'd be honored,” Cartagirone says. “He's got an open invitation to be our guest.”
I think you would enjoy visiting Corpus Christi because we believe in Jesus. Please, don't miss the chance to pray with us! Sylvana Armstrong, Grade 1.