(Based on a real conversation my mother had with her priest at the age of 9.)
“Ema, were you baptized?” Father Garcia asked. He was interviewing each child in catechism. Ema was 9 years old and she was in line for her first communion.
“Yes,” answered Ema. “Mama told me I was baptized as a baby.”
“Okay, then you’re fine.” Father Garcia checked off Ema’s name and was ready to move on to the next child. He hesitated when he saw the look on Ema’s face. He could see a question in her eyes. So he asked her, “What is it?”
“I’m.…‘okay’? What do you mean?” Ema was a sweet girl. She had a great love for God, so Father Garcia had no qualms about answering her question.
“It means that if you die you will go to heaven.”
“But…,” Ema paused, a look of confusion on her face. “I didn’t repent of my sins before I was baptized! I was too little,” Ema exclaimed. “Sunday you told us that the Bible says that to be saved we must ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of our sins’*. I have to repent of my sins and get the Holy Ghost first, don’t I?”
“Yes, Ema. The Bible does say that, but according to the Catholic doctrine, when a baby is born, they have the first sin of Adam and Eve upon them. If they are not baptized, they will not make it into heaven if they die.” Ema’s little face had an expression of intense confusion.
“I thought that children already belonged to Jesus! Jesus told His followers to not forbid the little children to come to Him ‘for of such is the kingdom of heaven’**. Doesn’t that mean that children already belong to Jesus?” Ema’s eyes were wide with concern.
“And,” she added, “if children have to be baptized, does that mean that all those children Jesus was talking about back then didn’t go to heaven?”
Ema‘s inquires were making Father Garcia feel somewhat flustered.
“No, Ema, they didn’t. Those children are in limbo,” he told her.
“What’s limbo?” Ema asked. “You never said anything about limbo before.”
Now Father Garcia was getting aggravated. So many questions! “Who is confusing this poor child?” he thought.
“Ema, who is teaching you these things? Who has taught you to think like this?” he asked.
The look of confusion on Ema’s face disappeared. She answered, “You are, Father. Don‘t you remember? You taught us this a couple of weeks ago.”
Now Ema was looking at Father Garcia as though HE were the confused child.
Father Garcia was dumbfounded.
“You’re fine, Ema,” was the only thing he could say. “You’re fine!” Father Garcia walked away to interview the next child.