Back in the day, especially pre-Vatican II, a properly appointed Catholic home would at least have a crucifix and portrait of the reigning Roman Pontiff.
It’s a little bit difficult to find, but one of the great apologetic tools that children can really “get” is the “Pope Chart“. It’s a large poster, suitable for framing, that includes a picture and short biography for all 266 popes throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church, beginning with St. Peter.
I say this is for kids, but really it’s a fascinating teaching tool for everyone. In our old house, we had a long hallway going to the bedrooms that had a large bulletin board on one of the walls. Since it was a “family area” part of the house, we’d pin up all sorts of things and not worry if it looked very messy: schoolwork, art projects, photos and cards from friends and family. We also pinned up the Pope Chart there, and I often found myself staring at it. I’d count how many Pope Alexanders that we’ve had or check and see who the first Pope to take the name Leo was. Once I read an article about an antipope and had to check the chart to see if he was listed there. The Pope Chart is simply a great way to learn a little Catholic history!
There are a couple different versions of the chart; the one we found also provided a smaller poster with the papal heraldry, which is interesting too.
Something about the fact of the Apostolic Succession — the unbroken line of bishops and popes reaching all the way back to the very beginning, when Jesus renamed Simon saying, “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church…” — really resonates with kids. They understand the whole “who started it” idea, and this chart helps them see where Catholicism comes from.
And, if you get someone on your list a Pope Chart, you can share with them the fact that you don’t just find charts on paper in our Church! Sometimes, the church itself is the chart! Today, the Vatican News service posted a picture depicting the addition of Pope Francis’ medallion to the “chart” that ornaments the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls:
Like the Pope Chart, the Basilica has a medallion for each pope throughout history, spanning the transept and nave. [If you want to get the prophecy kooks stirred up, ask how many spaces for medallions remain in the Basilica!]. It’s especially cool to find a Pope Chart, including the one linked above, that uses the same medallions as the ones at St. Paul Outside the Walls for the picture of each pope!