MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Ryan Wilkinson and Tim Magnes had no idea that they were writing to the future pope when they drafted a letter to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina as part of an assignment back when they were 7th graders at Manhattan Catholic Schools.
The class wrote to cardinals around the world. At the time, Cardinal Bergoglio was archbishop of the Buenos Aires archdiocese.
Their former teacher, Rick Greene, explained how he came up with the idea for the assignment: "I wanted to do something that I thought would be a really fun project and might have an impact on students for the long term in their lives… Pope Benedict had just been elected in April of 2005 and I thought it would just be a really terrific thing if we could create a project where my students, 7th grade geography students, could begin contacting cardinals around the world and perhaps create and a develop a relationship with them through correspondence and such and who knows, one day they might end up knowing and becoming friendly with the future pope."
"We would like to know who or what influenced you to become a priest... We hope you can right back soon. We would love to correspond over time," the boys' letter to the cardinal said.
"We just told him what diocese we were from, where we went school, gave him our school website and where he could look us up. Pretty much just asked him if he could write back to send a card," Tim Magnes told 13 News. They included a postcard from Manhattan and a newly minted Kansas quarter with their letter.
Cardinal Bergoglio quickly replied but his response was in Spanish. Tim and Ryan tried to translate the text but were unsuccessful.
Green held on to the letter all these years and when the cardinal became pope, he instantly made the connection.
"It was not translated for over 7 years until the day or so after he was elected... It just made me jump out of my chair and do everything I could to find the box I put everything in that I carried around with me from my teaching career. Just to say that it made the hair on the back on my neck stand up is an understatement because now we have someone who has a direct relationship to us and to these two students…. I knew instantly that someone in that class from August 2005 of 7th graders indeed had written him and that he had responded," Green said.
He took the letter to Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Manhattan where the staff helped translate it.
"It was a very soft and beautifully written text that told of his many challenges in Buenos Aires that he was working with on a daily basis. And he also spoke very highly of Ryan and Tim and our student population’s faith. It was just a very beautifully written letter," Green said.
Cardinal Bergoglio wrote: "I commend you for your interest in learning about the Universal Church. Jesus loves the church and we must also love her, because she is our mother. My work in the church is that of Archbishop of this archdiocese of Buenos Aires. There is much to do, much to cathechize. There is a great number of poor people that are unemployed. There are also many children who do not know Jesus... I joined the seminary being chemical technician. And I am very happy to be a priest. Following Jesus is very beautiful. You should also strive to follow Jesus closely. He calls each of us to follow the teachings of the gospel. I ask you to please pray for me and for this archdiocese of Buenos Aires. I thank you very much and I wish you well. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you.
Ryan and Tim are now sophomores at Kansas State University but they’ll never forget the assignment and the response they received from their humble pen pal.
"You would never expect to be talking to someone so high up, especially the pope, in the Catholic Church. It’s a great honor to be in contact with the guy," Ryan said.
"I was amazed because I never thought in million years that we’d be writing to the pope out of how many cardinals there are. There are more than 100," Tim added.
"I just wanted to make sure that these students realized that there’s so much more out there…. and that life’s all about relationships," Rick Greene told WIBW.