MANILA ― Former street children Jun Chura, 14, and Glyzelle Iris Palomar, 12, are hoping that their unforgettable encounter with Pope Francis will move other people to help build better lives for them and others like them.
“I hope more street children will get the help that they need,” said Palomar, who stumped Pope Francis and moved him to discard his prepared statement at the “Encounter with the Youth” at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Sunday.
“The Pope’s embrace was an assurance that children, especially those like us, should never lose hope. There is always hope for their future to change for the better,” said Chura in the vernacular.
Pope Francis arrives to meet youths in Santo Tomas University in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 18. (AP)
Palomar and Chura were among the four children who shared their experiences living on the streets of Manila.
She burst into tears while reading her prepared statement for the Pope, asking him why God allows children to suffer and why few people are helping them.
“She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words but in tears,” the pontiff told the estimated 30,000 rain-soaked young people on the grounds of UST.
But for the Rev. Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, the social action arm of the Archdiocese of Manila, there are those who help street children from the government, Church, nongovernment organizations and individuals. “Unfortunately, there’s just too many poor families in the Philippines,” he said.
Both Palomar and Chura came from the Church-run shelter Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation, which rescues children from the streets where they once lived by begging and scavenging dumps for scraps of food thrown away.
During the press briefing on Monday afternoon, the Rev. Matthieu Dauchez, executive director of TNK Foundation, asked reporters to refrain from asking about the personal information and the past of the children.
Chura wrote the statement about the plight of abandoned children, including the part read by Palomar, Dauchez said.
“I just thought about my personal experiences as a street kid, said Chura when asked about how he wrote his piece.
Palomar said she could not help but cry because even if it was Chura who wrote the statement, she deeply felt every single word of it.
“I feel very happy that I got the chance to get near him and even embrace him. My friends said ‘I’m very lucky,’” she said, adding that it was like embracing Jesus and her own father. “He (my father) was very much like that.”
“It felt good to be hugged by the Pope,” added Chura, saying he would never forget the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Both Chura and Palomar vowed to help other street kids when they grow up.
“I want to finish my studies to help them. I don’t want other children to experience what I went through out on the streets,” said Chura.
Palomar said she wants to be a social worker or a psychologist to help other kids at TNK Foundation.
The foundation has been receiving offers of donations from various organizations and individuals after the UST papal event, according to Dauchez.
“What the Pope did would be great for the foundation. It would help the TNK and all the NGOs working for the poor,” the French priest said.
“But, more importantly, there is also a great impact in the hearts of the children. … The Pope brought us hope. We need donations but the impact inside the hearts of the children is more important,” Dauchez added.
The UST event was the second time for both Palomar and Chura to encounter Pope Francis.
The first time was last Friday, right after the papal Mass at the Manila Cathedral.
Palomar and Chura were among the more than 260 children from TNK Foundation, located beside the cathedral in Intramuros. They got the surprise of their lives when the Pope dropped by after a two-hour Mass for Filipino bishops, the clergy and the religious on the second day of his four-day apostolic visit to the Philippines.
Dauchez said he and the children were crying after the Pope’s brief visit, overwhelmed by his message and his gesture of love.
“When you tell a child that you are loved by Christ, it’s very strong (message). But when you tell this to street children, it’s like telling them that your heart will be hurt again. Maybe you are not loved by your parents, maybe you were rejected by your family but you know God is always with you,” he said.
Dauchez said the children had been told they would be waving at the pontiff from the orphanage, a two-story facility on General Luna Street.
But a few minutes before the Mass in the cathedral ended, security officials informed him that the Pope was coming. And on Sunday, the Pope himself hugged two of their own children.