Little Ethan Toner, 6, whose only wish is to hug the pontiff, was shocked to receive the official letter and a blessed medal at his school in Kildalkey, Co Meath.
The letter, by assessor monsignor Paolo Borgia in the Holy See, says: “The holy father was happy to receive your letter and asked me to reply to you.
“He is glad to hear that you turn to the lord in your needs.
“His holiness sends warm wishes to you, your family, and your teachers and prays that you will grow in friendship with Jesus Christ our lord and be filled with the gifts of joy and peace.
“I am sending a medal blessed by the holy father for you.”
The senior infants pupil had written to Pope Francis in November but nobody really expected a reply to the letter, which was posted in the Vatican by one of the school’s special needs assistants, Pauline Cogavin.
The whirlwind fascination with the Pope only began last September when Ethan got a little afraid on his first day back at school and went to an area of reflection, where Pauline was working.
“He had a little wobble and came to this space in St Dympna’s NS. I had just returned from a visit to Rome and showed Ethan a picture of me standing very near the Pope as he gave a little child a hug,” said Pauline.
“He said that it was lovely and that he’d love to give the Pope a hug himself. I thought no more of it until I was talking to his mum Lorraine who said Ethan wanted to know everything about Pope Francis when he got home later that day.
“He was fascinated by him. Ethan talks in facts so when he says he loves Pope Francis, he really loves Pope Francis.”
When Pauline was returning to Rome last month, she asked Lorraine if she’d like her to bring over a message from Ethan.
“He wrote in the letter that when he gets afraid or worried, he thinks of Pope Francis and feels safe and happy again.
“He also wrote that the Pope had a special place in his room where he said a prayer each day and that he hoped one day he would get to give him a big hug.”
Pauline addressed the letter to ‘his holiness’ and posted it in the Vatican, hoping and praying that they would at least get a generic acknowledgement back.
“I couldn’t believe when the letter with the Vatican stamp landed in the school on Monday but Ethan smiled from ear to ear when he opened the envelope.
“He said, ‘I knew he’d write to me. Wait until I tell my mam. I might now get to give him a hug because he read my letter.’
“Ethan is just the most inspiring, well-brought up child to be around. He’s a gift to us and his parents. So many children just wanted to go to the Late Late Toy Show but all he wanted was a hug from the Pope.”