Pope Francis and Manila's Street Children: A Simple, Intense Encounter

The 20-minute meeting took place after the Holy Father’s visit with bishops, priests and religious at Manila’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Francis met with street children during his visit to the Philippines on Jan. 16.
Pope Francis met with street children during his visit to the Philippines on Jan. 16. (photo: CNA/ANSA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO)

MANILA, Philippines — Deviating from his schedule of events in the Philippines, Pope Francis had a brief but emotionally intense encounter with former street kids in Manila on Friday.

“I saw a sense of paternity from the Pope, also physically in his embrace, his caress, his affection that the kids immediately noticed. So all of them wanted to be in contact with him,” Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro told CNA on Jan. 16.

“It was a very simple encounter. … But there was a great intensity and emotion.”

The encounter took place directly after Pope Francis' Jan. 16 Mass with bishops, priests and religious in Manila's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Father Spadaro, who had concelebrated Mass with the Pope, said that, after changing, the Holy Father walked “very simply” outside the main doors by himself and turned toward the left side of the cathedral, and into the courtyard of a house, where the group of street children was waiting.

The kids, who numbered around 250, “were street children, scavenger children, children in slums and mentally challenged youth. Some of them have been abused, even sexually,” the priest explained, recalling how the Pope “was welcomed by the kids on the street, even before he entered.”

Founded by a Jesuit, the house is a home center for youth run by the Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation, which has been assisting street children in Manila since 1998. The foundation has several houses for boys and girls throughout Manila, and the one the Pope visited was for girls.

When the Pope entered the home, Father Spadaro recounted how the children immediately “started to sing and to embrace him … so there was a lot of excitement.”

The brief encounter was “very simple” and lasted no more than 20 minutes, he noted, recalling how the Pope had no prepared speech, but  said a few “small words” in Spanish, which were then translated into Filipino by Cardinal Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila.

Although the Pope’s words were brief and simple, they were “words of affection, of sympathy,” the priest explained. The encounter concluded when the children sang a song for the Pope on his way out.

Despite not being written into the original schedule of events, the encounter had obviously been planned ahead of time, Father Spadaro said, because the kids themselves had to be organized and go outside.

The event “was kept silent and not written into the regular schedule,” he said, recalling how the priest in charge of the foundation also gave a short introductory speech in English, and partly in French at the end, presenting the kids to the Pope and explaining their reality.

Pope Francis “evidently needed to encounter some reality of the marginalized, of the poor. He had just said it in his homily at Mass: 'If you take away the poor from the Gospel, you take the heart of the Gospel itself,'” the priest observed.

“So he really felt the need to see these people, to touch them. It was wonderful. So it was not a symbolic encounter, but a real one, absolutely real, even if it was a private encounter."

Surprised himself by the encounter, Father Spadaro said that he didn’t know what was going on at first and just followed the Pope and other people out of the cathedral, and he realized what was happening once they arrived at the center across the street.

He said that he was particularly moved when “a boy with a blue shirt arrived and hugged the Pope on the leg.”

Cardinal Luis Tagle told journalists in a Jan. 16 news conference that “it was a beautiful, beautiful encounter. You could see the Holy Father in his element.”

“You could see his eyes getting cloudy and beginning to fill with tears,” the cardinal added. “You could see that he was trying to show his affection to the children, but at the same time trying to fathom these deep wounds and pain.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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