Pope receives enthusiastic welcome in Philippines

Bill Brewer Catholic Church, News

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis did not disappoint hundreds of former street children who were part of a massive campaign to show him one of the centers where they have found safety and love.

Although it was not in his official program, Pope Francis walked out of Manila’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral after Mass Jan. 16 and across the street to the Blessed Charles de Foucauld Home for Girls, which is run by the Tulay Ng Kabataan foundation.

Accompanied by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a frequent guest, the pope spent about half an hour with some 320 boys and girls and young adults from a number of TNK homes in metropolitan Manila.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful encounter,” Cardinal Tagle told reporters later. “You could see the Holy Father was in his element.”

The cardinal translated for the pope as several of the children approached and shared their stories, stories that often included horrible experiences of exploitation and abuse when they lived on the streets.

“You could see the attentiveness of the pope,” he said. Getting emotional himself, the cardinal said that as he listened the pope’s “eyes were getting cloudy and beginning to fill with tears. You could see he was trying to show his affection to the children, but at the same time trying to fathom these deep wounds and pain.”

When the children came up to touch and to hug the pope, he said, Pope Francis whispered to him that it was clear they yearned for a loving human touch, “the touch of a parent.”

The pope “assured the children that they are loved by God, that God is with them, and that they should not forget that.”

In a text message reply to questions, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the visit featured “songs, kisses and hugs. And a blessing.”

“These children — the poorest among the poor — are for sure the most vulnerable victims of our society, but they remain masters of joy, as one can see on their smiling faces,” the foundation’s director, 39-year-old Father Matthieu Dauchez, told Pope Francis.

In a statement issued after the visit, the center said that by taking the time to meet “many children who faced horrors of the street like begging, violence, drugs (and) prostitution,” Pope Francis demonstrated “that he is the pope of the forgotten.”

“This is awesome,” the statement quoted 10-year-old Alvin as saying. “He gave me a huge warm hug!”

Appealing to the traditional values of Filipino Catholic families, Pope Francis made one of his strongest calls as pope against movements to recognize same-sex unions as marriage.

“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” the pope said Jan. 16, hours after warning that Philippine society was “tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.”

“As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture,” he said.

Pope Francis made his remarks at a Mass in Manila’s cathedral and then at a meeting with families in the city’s Mall of Asia Arena.

At the latter event, the pope called on his listeners to resist “ideological colonization that threatens the family.” The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said later that the pope was referring to same-sex marriage, among other practices.

Cardinal Tagle, who was present at the reporters’ briefing, cited claims by African bishops that foreign aid to their countries is sometimes offered on the condition that they accept “alien” views of sexuality and marriage.

Civil law in the Philippines does not recognize marriages or unions between people of the same sex.

The pope’s comments came less than a week after a speech to Vatican diplomats in which he criticized “legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole,” saying that such legislation had contributed to a widespread sense of the family as “disposable.”

And surprising even the people who have been promoting the sainthood cause of Blessed Junipero Serra, Pope Francis announced Jan. 15 en route to the Philippines that in September he hopes to canonize the 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who founded a string of missions across Mexico and California.

Blessed Serra is credited with directly founding nine missions in California, one in Baja California in Mexico and with reinvigorating established missions in Mexico. Friars under his tutelage founded many others across California, in territory that was then part of New Spain.

The announcement came when Pope Francis, aboard a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, explained to reporters his decision to canonize St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary to Sri Lanka, bypassing the usual process, including verification of a second miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession. Pope Francis said St. Joseph was among great evangelists whom he planned to canonize without such preliminaries, in an effort to celebrate the practice of evangelization.

Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.

The pope made his remarks Jan. 15 to reporters accompanying him on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. During the 50-minute news conference, the pope also said his encyclical on the environment likely will be published early this summer, and that he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary to North America, in the U.S. this September.

Asked by a French reporter to compare freedom of religion and freedom of expression as human rights, Pope Francis linked his answer to the Jan. 7 attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, apparently in retaliation for the newspaper’s publication of cartoons mocking Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

“Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly,” the pope said. “One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”

The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense.”

Offering a hypothetical example that referred to the Vatican’s planner of papal trips, who was standing beside him as he spoke, the pope said: “It’s true, one cannot react violently, but if Dr. (Alberto) Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

The pope said those who “make fun or toy with other people’s religions, these people provoke, and there can happen what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit. Every religion has its dignity.”