Fr. Jose Cherukara was part of the delegation from the Hong Kong Diocesan Youth Commission to attend the Papal Encounter with the youth in Manila.
The month of January 2015 was so significant for the Church in Asia as Pope Francis came Asia for the second time in six months. His first visit to Asia was to participate in the Asian Youth Day in South Korea in August 2014. In his week-long second visit, the Pope chose two small island nations which were devastated by civil war and natural calamities in the recent past - Sri Lanka and The Philippines. These nations celebrated every moment of the visit of the most celebrated leader of the world, bringing them the message of "Mercy and Compassion".
|Pope Francis concluded his trip to Asia with an open-air Mass for a rain-drenched crowd in Manila that the Vatican and the government said drew up to seven million people, the largest ever for a papal event|
Pope Francis continues to capture the imagination of people, irrespective of their religion or race. The kind of welcome and appreciation he received in Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist nation and his openness and concern to meet with the leaders of other faith in The Philippines, where over 90% of the people are Catholics were telling examples for his title, "the People's Pope"!
Together with other three members of the Diocesan Youth Commission of Hong Kong [DYC] , I had the opportunity to be part of the Papal Encounter with the Youth held in the campus of the University of Santo Thomas (UST) in Manila on January 18.
24,000 youth from the various dioceses of the Philippines were issued passes
for the papal encounter in the UST campus on 18 January.
Hundreds of thousands of both young and old, with singing and praying waited patiently for hours at the UST grounds before the pope arrived in the campus. Four youngsters had the privilege of raising the concerns of the Filipino youth before the Pontiff. Two of them were students of UST and the other two were rescued street kids. But the one to win the heart of the Pope was a 12-year-old girl named Glyzelle Palomar. I will never forget the encounter of Glyzelle with the Pope. She had no words, only tears to express her suffering.
Together with the crowds of people, we walked to the UST grounds at 3.00 am for the 10.00 am encounter with the Pope in the UST Campus
A former street kid, Glyzelle gave voice to the estimated 1.2 million homeless Filipino children who every day forage in the trash for food and sleep on cardboard boxes in slums. "There are many children neglected by their own parents," she told Pope Francis. "There are also many who became victims and many terrible things happened to them, like drugs or prostitution. Why is God allowing such things to happen, even if it is not the fault of the children? And why are there only very few people helping us?
|Pope Francis addressing the Youth at the UST|
She couldn't complete her prepared speech as she broke into tears, but soon found herself in the comforts of a fatherly hug and received the blessing and gift from the Holy Father. I have seen many in the crowd were wiping their tears. Indeed the presence of the Holy Father was so stirring and up-lifting. The pope in his response said, "[Glyzelle] has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn't put it into words but expressed it in tears".
During his apostolic visit, the Pope deviated from both his official schedule and prepared speeches. He used the cry of Glyzelle as a springboard to bring home his call for mercy and compassion. "If you don't learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian. This is a challenge. When they posed this question to us, why children suffer, why this or that tragedy occurs in life – our response must be either silence or a word that is born of our tears. Be courageous, don't be afraid to cry", the Pope exhorted the youth at UST campus.
|With our host-family in Manila - Aissa and Dennis Montecillo (Right)|
The Pope also used the opportunity to press on the need for greater representation of girls in the life of the Church. "There's only a very small representation of girls among you. Too little. Women have much to tell us in today's society. Sometimes we are too "machistas" and we don't allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand... So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls", said the Pope and the crowd received it with a huge round of applauds.
|At Chocolate Hills, Bohol|
The delegation of the Youth Commission was of grateful hearts that they had the opportunity to be part of this historic event in the life of the Church in Asia. "This gave us a different experience of the culture of being in a country where the majority are Catholics and we do not get this in Hong Kong", said Charmian Lam, a member of the DYC. "The openness everyone has and the Catholic faith that is integrated into the way of life of the people are special for the Philippines. We see scripture words written on the back of the tricycles, and shops and companies carrying Christian names and people wearing T-shirts with images of biblical characters and above all, lots of chapels and churches all around are peculiar for the Philippines", she said.
During the meeting with the Youth, Pope gave an important message for girls, opined Holly, Mok Ching Yee. "It was nice of him to say, 'If you don't learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian", she said. Crying is regarded as sign of weakness and nature of women. Ching Yee was also of the feeling that the Holy Father realises the fact that "we don't allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye". For girls, the message of the Pope is one of great encouragement.
|We had a chance to visit the Shrine
Santo Niño de Cebú
Fr. Paul Kam, Director of the DYC identified three important guidelines the Holy Father gives to the Youth of today: "to think, to feel, to do. And all in harmony..." Our youth often fail to think before action and refuse to act according to their feelings, he said. Hence, the Pope gives us the all-important guidelines to be a better individual, better citizen and better Catholic. In an attempt to stress this point, the Pope asked the youth to repeat after him these three points.