Manila’s Rizal Park overflowed during the Mass that concluded the Pope’s visit to the Philippines on a feast day cherished by the country’s Catholics, the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The media highlighted the presence of almost six million people, in addition to those who poured into the streets of the capital and onto the island of Leyte, devastated by the worst typhoon ever recorded. It was there that Francis spoke these unforgettable words: “I wanted to come to be with you”. Previously, the Pontiff had enjoyed a fond welcome in Sri Lanka, where Catholics are a minority yet his presence aroused interest and encouraged dialogue and cooperation among the various religions and in a society just recovering from a long civil war.
The journey to Asia confirmed that Francis is a missionary at heart, a witness to God’s mercy and to the Gospel. This could be seen in the two events on the Sunday dedicated to the Child Jesus dressed as a king: the meeting with the young people and the Mass in Rizal Park, sealed with the warmest gratitude of the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Villegas and Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, who were interrupted many times by applause, as they expressed the Filipino people’s appreciation and affection for the Pope.
As in the meeting with families, and also in that with young people, Francis abandoned his prepared remarks and, recalling the volunteer who died in Leyte, he improvised a long speech in Spanish, interrupted and visibly moved by the testimony, in this case of two children saved from the street and of two young people committed to helping others. In the face of the dramatic reality of the extreme poverty and ignoble exploitation of so many minors, up to abuse and the repulsive phenomenon of sexual tourism, but also in the widespread self-referential dryness of a society increasingly swamped with information, the Pope found words that apply not only to young Filipinos. Struck by the tears of a girl who had just told her disturbing story, Bergoglio incorporated the highest praises for women, asking himself the reason for the suffering of the littlest ones: “Sometimes we are too chauvinist, and we don’t leave room for women. But women are able to see things through different eyes than men. Women know how to ask questions that we men cannot understand. Pay heed: today [the girl] asked the only question that has no answer. And the words didn’t come to her, she had to say it with tears. Therefore, when the next Pope comes to Manila, let us be more like women!”, he exclaimed. He then equated the girl’s tears to those of Jesus weeping, as told many times in the Gospels.
Francis joined in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Child Jesus while the whole Church prepares for the second Synod on the Family. He thus evoked once again the necessity to protect the family “against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture”, in an effort to decipher “God’s plan for us”, the sole purpose of which is to build a world of honesty and peace.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 18, 2018
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