A New Rock

About this article

This catechetical session is intended to lead students to an understanding of Pope John Paul II's life and ministry. It can be used with youth or in an intergenerational session for families.


This is a youth catechetical session intended to lead young people to an understanding of Pope John Paul II's life, ministry, general papal responsibilities, and the procedure for electing a new pontiff. It can be used in a classroom, a youth ministry meeting, or even as an intergenerational session for families to use at home.


Study It!

Core Session: Pope John Paul II's Contribution Puzzle (40 minutes)

Materials and Preparation
Decide how you will divide your group. It is best to have five teams with the same number of people on each team. Cut apart the "Biography of Pope John Paul II" and label in the following way:

  • first two paragraphs: Youth Era
  • third paragraph: Newly Ordained Era
  • fourth paragraph: Poland and Beyond Era
  • fifth and sixth paragraphs: Early Papacy Era
  • seventh and eighth paragraphs: Later Papacy Era 

1. Divide the group into five teams. Assign one of the eras to each team. Give each group copies of the corresponding paragraph or paragraphs, one copy for each person. Tell the young people to first read quietly for 10 minutes then spend 10 minutes reading out loud as a group. The goal is to become very familiar with Pope John Paul II during their assigned era.

2. While the teams are working, assign the members of each team a letter of the alphabet. Do this for all the teams so there will be as many subgroups as there are members per team. (For example, if each team has five people, assign the young people letters a, b, c, d, and e. If there are ten teams, use a through j.)

3. Gather the young people back into the large group. Direct them to divide into subgroups based on the letters you assigned them. Each subgroup should have at least one person from each of the five original teams. Direct the young people to teach the members of their subgroup about John Paul II. Say something like: "You each have part of the John Paul II puzzle. If each person shares her or his piece, you will all see the big picture." 


  • Create puzzle pieces with poster board or cardboard. Paste the information for one of the eras onto each puzzle piece so that the five pieces fit together. Make one puzzle for each subgroup so that when the subgroups meet they have a real puzzle as well as the figurative one to put together.
  • Divide the large group into teams of five people. Give each young person a copy of the information for a different era. Allow 15 minutes for the young people to read the information and 15 minutes for the teams to discuss it. Elicit comments from the teams and discuss as a large group for 10 minutes.


Going Deeper 1: The Perfect Pope (40 minutes)

Materials and Preparation
Gather the following items:

1. Ask the young people to complete the "Must--Should--Can" handout. When everyone is finished, read the correct answers from the following answer key so that the young people can add up their correct answers. The person with the most correct answers wins. Lead a discussion on the various responsibilities of a pope.

Answer key
Musts 1, 2, 4, 7, 13, 14, 18, 21.
Shoulds 6, 8, 9, 15, 17, 20 (17 and 20 could be Cans as well)
Cans 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19, 22 (on number 11, he is only infallible when he pronounces ex cathedra).

In small groups (groups of three or four work best), have the young people indicate which are the most important responsibilities of the pope.

2. Have one member of each group lie down on the butcher paper. Direct the rest of the group members to use the markers to outline the body of the person on the paper.

3. Tell the group members to label the "parts" of the perfect pope (kind heart, service hands, etc). This is the young people's opportunity to say what they feel is important in a Church leader.

4. Let each group put its "perfect pope" on display. Have everyone walk around and view the creations. As a large group, talk about which expectations are most important.

5. Conclude by saying, "While we won't get a perfect pope, the election process will hopefully bring us one who can live up to the expectations we just discussed."


  • Buy cheap coveralls from a paint store. Have each group label their overalls as in number 3, and then stage a "perfect pope show," with one of the group members wearing the coveralls.
  • For individual work, give each person a handout with a body outlined and have them follow step 3 on their own. Let individuals share in small groups of two or three when they are finished.


Going Deeper 2: Electing a Pope (20 minutes or longer depending on the election procedure)

Materials and Preparation
If you are not already familiar with the election process, see "Electing a New Pope." Print out a copy to refer to during the mock election process. 

Gather the following items:

  • copies of the descriptions of the four candidates (located at the end of this article), cut apart
  • a ballot box 

1. Spend a few minutes discussing the election process. Find out what the young people already know and fill in the gaps.

2. Hand out the descriptions of the four candidates (see below). Have each young person pick one of the four candidates. Tell the young people that the real cardinals can pick anyone they want, but for the purposes of this exercise, there are only four possible candidates.

3. Have the young people put their secret ballot into a closed box, saying, "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one whom before God I think should be elected." (This is what the cardinals say as they vote.)

4. If you have enough leaders, use three scrutineers, the people who add up the ballots. Otherwise have only one leader act as scrutineer. If there is a two-thirds majority vote for one individual, a new pope is elected. If not, repeat the procedure until a two-thirds majority is reached or you run out of time.


Pray It!

A New Rock(15 minutes or longer depending on version using)

Materials and Preparation
Gather the following items:

  • flat rocks with John Paul II 1920-[date of death] written on one side.
  • a rocky prayer space, using the flat rocks or a rocky waterfall
  • a Bible opened to John 21:15-19
  • a candle
  • a CD player and reflective music (suggestion: "Let My Prayer Come like Incense," Pray Your Heart CD [Portland, OR: Oregon Catholic Press, 2001])

Select a volunteer to read John 21:15-19. Give him or her ample time to review the reading.

1. Gather around the prayer space as the song plays.

2. Invite the volunteer to proclaim John 21:15-19.

3. Ask each young person to go to the prayer table, pick up a John Paul II rock, and state an intention (like, "Let us pray for a new pope who appreciates the gift of young people."). All should respond with "Lord, hear our prayer."


3. Distribute the rocks, one per person.

4. Conclude the prayer time with these or similar words:

Take these rocks as a reminder of the person who has been the leader of the Church throughout your entire life. Take them home and place them somewhere visible. Keep the college of cardinals in prayer as they discern our new shepherd. When a decision is made, turn the rock over, and pray for the new pope. As a sign of our unity and in support of our Church leaders, let us go forth to serve as Jesus did, as Peter did, and as Pope John Paul II did. Amen.


Live It!

Options and Actions:

  • Create a graffiti wall by taping butcher paper or poster board on a wall. Write the prompt, "If I were the Pope, I'd . . . " on the top. Let the young people write their answers on the wall. Challenge them to do something in their day-to-day life that coincides with what they wrote.
  • Provide books, encyclicals, speeches, homilies, and other writings of John Paul II. Ask the young people to find a quote that illustrates Pope John Paul II's philosophy and that they will use as their own inspiration for living. Give them a blank index card and have them put the quote on one side and an illustration, logo, or other drawing on the other side. Encourage them to live the quote.
  • If the parish or school has bulletin board space, let the young people create an illustrated tribute to Pope John Paul II. If there is no shared bulletin board, suggest that the young people create a commemorative issue of the school newspaper or parish bulletin.


The Four Candidates

Father W. American. An educated man, married for thirty-five years but now widowed, and ordained a priest. He understands the complexities of the secular world because of his business experience and also understands the inner workings of parish life due to his ten years at Saint Victoria Church. Recently he became the bishop's priest-secretary, so he is learning the ins and outs of the diocesan structure. He speaks only English and has three grown children.

Father X. Latin American. Native to El Salvador, Father X has traveled throughout Central and South America. He focuses his attention on issues of peace and justice. He speaks Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Italian. His theology centers on liberation and justice. He has been a parish priest, a prison chaplain, a priest-secretary for the bishop, and he currently serves as a spiritual director for the Women's Religious Orders of Guatemala.

Bishop Y. Italian. This bishop has served in the Vatican most of his ordained life. He understands the ins and outs, knows many important officials, and worked directly with the last pope. He has not traveled outside Europe. He communicates well in Italian, Latin, and English. He is very conservative in his theology and has spoken out against many liberal theologians, believing in a "back to basics" approach.

Cardinal Z. South African. Cardinal Z was incarcerated during the Apartheid Movement. He became a priest after a life of violence against the white leaders. He atoned and has become a peace seeker. His diocese has seen a reversal in its political rulers, moving from white separatists to local vigilantes to the current level-headed leaders. He is credited for assisting in the transitions. He is very pastoral, visiting parishes as often as possible. Having been educated in Rome, he knows the Vatican well. He speaks many languages and dialects of the African people, as well as Italian, English, Dutch, and French.

Vikki Shepp is a consultant of youth ministry and Confirmation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.


(Copyright © 2003 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for the free use of this article for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the written permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095, or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.)