Pope stumped: Why does God allow children to suffer?

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A weeping 12-year-old girl asked how God could allow children to become prostitutes, moving Pope Francis yesterday to hug her and appeal to everyone to show more compassion.

Glyzelle Palomar, a one-time homeless child taken in by a church charity, made her emotional plea during ceremonies at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, ahead of the mass in Rizal Park celebrated by the pope.

“Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution,” Palomar told the pope as she stood on stage alongside 14-year-old Jun Chura who also used to be homeless.

Both are now under the care of the Tulay ng Kabataan foundation, which rescues and takes care of street children.

“Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything,” she said, breaking down.

As Palomar wept profusely, the 78-year-old pontiff took her into his arms and hugged her for a few seconds. Palomar later said she cried after being overcome by jitters, not because she had been sexually abused.

The pope discarded most of his prepared speech that he was due to give in English, reverting to his native Spanish to deliver an impromptu and heartfelt response.

“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 pope told a crowd that organizers of “Encounter with the Youth” at the UST said reached 30,000.

“The nucleus of your question... almost doesn’t have a reply,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said he could not answer the questions posed by Palomar and Chura but the people could start understanding the poor and the oppressed with true compassion.

“The heart of your (Chura) question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about the things you said can we come close to answering that question. Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion which is useless,” Pope Francis said.

“Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need,” he said.

“Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.”

The pope also said the topic of Palomar’s question showed women were not adequately represented in society.

“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes, we are too ‘machista’ and we don’t allow room for the woman,” he said.

Leandro Santos II, a UST law student asked the pope how they can retain their values amid the deluge of distracting information from social media.

“Despite the advantage (of technology), we still feel lost,” he said.

Volunteer Rikki Macolor asked the pontiff how the youth can be of service to others.

Francis replied that in the Gospel, Jesus cried for his dead friend, and for the poor widow who had to bury her son. He said Jesus was also moved to tears and compassion when he saw the crowds without a pastor.

He said one cannot be a good Christian if one does not learn to cry.

Answering Macolor’s question on how can one be a saint, he said one has to learn how to love.

He related the story of St. Matthew, who immediately let go of his good life as a banker, when he was called by Jesus to be his apostle. He said St. Matthew was surprised that after being hated by the people for a long time, he felt he was loved.

“The day when Matthew left home for work, saying goodbye to his wife, he couldn’t imagine he would come home without money and have to prepare a feast for the one who loved him first. God surprised Matthew more than the money he had. Allow yourselves to be surprised by God,” Pope Francis said.

“Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved. It’s harder to let yourself be loved than to love. That is why it is so difficult to come to the perfect love of God. We can love Him but we must let ourselves be loved by Him. Real love is being open to the love that comes to you,” he said.

Too much information

Pope Francis said while there is nothing wrong with using gadgets and being loaded with information, it could make one lose sight of what is essential – to learn how to love.

The pope also cautioned the youth on being distracted by the deluge of information that should be used to help and serve others.

“Is that bad? No. It is good and can help. But there is a real danger of living in a way that we accumulate information. We have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with that information,” the pope said in answering Santos’ question.

“So we run the risk of becoming museums of young people who have everything but not knowing what to do with it. We don’t need young museums but we do need holy young people.”

Pope Francis, who maintains a Twitter account, said love can make information fruitful by harmonious use of what he called the “three languages of the mind, heart and hands.”

“What you think, you must feel and put into effect. Your information comes down to your heart and you put it into practice harmoniously. What you think, you feel and you do. Feel what you think and feel what you do. Do what you think and what you feel,” he said.

The pope said learning to love is the most important subject one has to learn at university.

“This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn how to love, not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it. But through that love let that information bear fruit,” Francis told the audience, most of them carrying mobile phones and tablets.

Empty pockets, full heart

The pontiff went on to discuss his thoughts on what real love is, which he said is “about loving and letting yourself be loved” and “allows you to spend yourselves and leave your pockets empty.”

“Real love is being open to the love that comes to you, the love that surprises us. If you only have information you are not surprised. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved,” he added.

“To be wise use three languages: think well, feel well and do well. And to be wise, allow yourselves to be surprised by the love of God. That will guarantee a good life.”

Pope Francis also reminded the Filipino youth to love the poor and contribute to the betterment of the society.

“I want to express the love and the hopes of the Church for you. And I want to encourage you, as Christian citizens of this country, to offer yourselves passionately and honestly to the great work of renewing your society and helping to build a better world,” he added.

The forum with Pope Francis also presented opportunity for the youth to call on the country’s political leaders to emulate the pope in leading the faithful.

Adrian Bartolome, a financial management student of UST, said he hopes Filipino politicians would learn to show true compassion for the underprivileged like Pope Francis.

“I hope that Pope Francis would continue to pray for our country. I hope our politicians would follow his example to be humble, to show mercy and compassion to others,” Bartolome said.

University of the Assumption-Pampanga students Ian Carlo Medina and Ronielle Angelica Muñoz said they were overjoyed to have the chance to see the pope in person.

“We had a hard time entering UST this morning because there were so many people who want to come inside. We feel so blessed to be chosen as youth delegates for our school,” Muñoz said.

People who attended yesterday’s activity at UST did everything to catch a glimpse of the pope, including climbing trees and lampposts.

The crowd roared and waved flags as the pope started touring the campus at around 10 a.m.

As in his previous motorcades, the pope stopped several times to kiss and bless babies along the way.

Rains started to drench the area as the pope’s encounter with thousands of youth began at the football field.

Those who did not bring raincoats and umbrellas used plastic and garbage bags to protect them from the rain.

Pope Francis’ encounter with the youth sought to recognize the role of the youth as the future of the Church and the world, even amid Tropical Storm Amang. –Alexis Romero, Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan

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