Reporter's notebook: Children's letters for the Pope

(CNN)I was covering Pope Francis' visit to Cuba and the United States for CNN, from the papal plane, when I first met the Holy Father last September.

I had about 45 seconds of one-on-one time with the Pope, and during that time, he cracked a joke and gave me a blessing. As a Catholic, it was a surreal experience and something that felt like a once in a lifetime moment.
But, as it turns out, I learned I would have a second opportunity to speak with the Pope. A few weeks before his February visit to Mexico, I found out I'd be covering his visit from the papal plane once again.
This time, I wanted to give a special group of people a chance to give their messages to the Pope.
    For years now, I've shared my time and my passion for education and reading with thousands of students at elementary schools in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New York and Connecticut. I usually read a children's book in the classroom and then answer questions.
    During a recent visit to St. Mary Star of the Sea School, a Catholic elementary and middle school in Chicago, I asked the students to write a letter to the Pope.
    I told them I would try my best to hand deliver them to Francis on the papal plane. I would try my best, I emphasized, but I couldn't make any promises.
    I did get that opportunity on Friday afternoon, as the Pope traveled from Rome to Cuba before his expected arrival in Mexico.
    "They are beautiful!" Pope Francis said.
    The project had motivated many children to draw pictures for the Pope and speak to him from the heart.
    "Dear Pope Francis, You inspire me a lot. I want to learn many languages, too," wrote first grade student Natalia Vasquez. "Please have a safe trip. I hope you meet my Grandma Pena because she lives in Mexico and takes care of me."
    Student Alberto Vega also has family in Mexico and wrote, "We hope you fill their hearts with love and stop the violence in Mexico and in the world. We want the government of Mexico to stop being greedy and help people, especially the poor. I also would like gun shooting to stop."
    Other students had questions for the Pope.
    "What is the hardest part about being the pope?" asked Eava Zuñiga.
    "Why do you go to different countries?" asked Angel Tabares.
    "Why did you want to be the pope?" asked Damian Chabot.
    "When you were in 1st grade did you ever think you would be pope?" asked Nathan Mendoza.
    In all, I collected dozens of letters from both St. Mary Star of the Sea School and St. Joseph High School. You can see more of the letters in photo gallery above.