Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 23-29 January 2015 issue of FilAm Star published in San Francisco, CA. The author/blogger is the Manila-based Special Photo/News Correspondent of the paper.
“If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian.” - Pope Francis
Filipino-speaking Fr Matthieu Dauchez, executive director of the ANAK-Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation [ANAK-TNK], recalled that he gathered all the 260 children from their residence homes for boys and girls the day before Pope Francis celebrated the mass for the clergy and the religious at the Manila Cathedral on 16 January. He thought the Pontiff will pass by their Blessed Charles de Foucauld home for girls since concrete barriers have been installed on their street, and this would be a great chance for children to see the Pontiff at close range.
While the mass was going on, the house was visited twice by the security people. First, they came to inspect the house. The mass was about to end when they came back to make seating arrangements, and thus Fr. Dauchez already sensed that the pope is indeed coming to see the children.
In September last year, children in the homes and on the streets wrote letters to the pope asking him to include them during his visit. About a thousand letters were brought to Rome by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
Only the Pope and the Cardinal knew what they would do after the mass. Our friend at the Arzobispado a block away reported that he heard loud cheering from the crowd at the back of the cathedral, and when he looked, he saw them walking out the back door and moving toward the Charles de Foucauld. This was totally unscheduled, not in official papal itinerary.
Jun Chura, Glyzelle Palomar with Fr. Matthieu Dauchez of ANAK-TNK at
their press conference on the day Pope Francis returned to Rome.
The visit lasted for almost an hour. The first ten minutes saw the children hugging the Pope. Fr Matthieu described how excited the children even after he has left: they kept on talking about it. Unbelievable, he said, they almost did not sleep. This visit was sort of magical to them. He has brought them “pagasa” or hope.
Jun “Michael” Chura (14-year old Grade IV student) and Glyzelle Iris “Techie” Palomar (12 years old, Grade V) were at the Charles de Foucauld event. They would see Pope Francis again on Sunday at the “Encounter with the Youth” event at the University of Santo Tomas.
Jun and Glyzelle delivered the testimonies that shook not only Pope Francis but also everyone in the audience and those watching the live streaming on the social media.
|Jun Chura, 14, is in Grade IV.|
Jun wrote the testimony all by himself without any coaching from Fr. Matthieu and the foundation volunteers. He was only asked to make it shorter because it has to be delivered in 3-4 minutes. In the published program, he was to speak alone, but Glyzelle was added to give a female face to his story, which is typical of street children. She was given the question portion.
Jun introduced himself as a former street child. He has been in a residence home for boys in Quezon for the last four years.
“Because of the fact that my family was not anymore able to send me to school, I went away from home and left my family,” he began his testimony. “Then I was feeding myself with what I can find in the garbage. I did not know where to go and I was sleeping on the sidewalk. I was looking for a piece of carton to make a mat. And I was trying to overcome this situation even if my body was so dirty like my companions in the street. They were also overcoming their situations in spite of the fact that their bodies were dirty also.”
Food that sustained him day after day were leftovers from restaurants, or what he could buy using money he made from selling broken material, plastic bottles, or papers.
“When I was in the street,” he revealed, “I witness also things I don’t like, terrible things that happened to my companions ... I saw that they were taught how to steal, to kill also, and they have no respect anymore for the adults. Sometimes they were quarrelling because of the things they stole. I saw also some children who were taught how to use drugs like shabu, cigarettes or marijuana.
Glyzelle Palomar, 12, is in Grade V.
“I saw also some of my companions sniffing solvent or glue. These are drugs also. .... When I was in the street I was also very careful because I saw also some of my friends being fooled by adults. They were pretending to give us money to catch attention and approach the children and let them think that they will be given something to eat, or the opportunity to study and care, but the truth is that they have other goal and they will use you, like for cleaning their homes, and sometimes they have malicious goals like sexual abuse. There are so many abuses happening in the street! “
The street educator from ANAK-Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation [ANAK-TNK] provided the turning point in his life.
“After a certain number of days, suddenly I found back hope because there is a street educator from ANAK-TNK, who asked me if I want to join this agency helping children living in the street. He asked me if I wanted to join, and at first I decline the proposal. Few days after, when I learned that Tulay ng Kabataan is really taking care of street children who are not anymore with their families, I realized that not all people have no heart. There are still people with hearts ready to help children in need.
“When I joined ANAK-TNK, I was very surprised to see that there are people really ready to help and then I started to dream again. I told myself that when I will finish my study, I will be the one helping street children like me before. I will be able also to help my own family and the ANAK-TNK which was the one helping me to continue my study.
“I know today that I will be able to continue my study because ANAK-TNK is at my side, and do not stop helping me and my companions from the street.”
Glyselle stays at the Blessed Charles de Foucauld residence home for girls. Her lines were few but memorable because she cried when she threw her questions to Pope Francis: “There are many children neglected by their own parents. 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 they only very few people helping us?”
Jun said that walking toward the pope and embracing him are very memorable to him. “Masarap yakapin si Pope,” she remembered, “parang tatay ko siya”. She said the questions themselves actually made her cry.
In response, Pope Francis discarded his prepared speech, switched to Spanish and spoke his mind: “I invite each one here to ask yourselves, have I learned how to weep, to cry? If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian.”
All the former street children residing in the ANAK-TNK homes were all crying too as they watched the UST drama, according to Fr. Matthieu.
Jun Chura hopes to be able to finish schooling so that he can help other street children. Glyzelle Palomar dreams to study psychology and become a social worker helping street children. Fr. Matthieu says the success of their mission can be seen in their former residents who have become street educators, or who have married and implanted in their children the values they gained during their years at the foundation homes.
ANAK-TNK started in 1998. At this time, there around 1,300 children in the foundation under its four different programs: street children (13 centers including a nursery and 1 carpentry); mentally challenged youth (3 centers and 2 workshops), poor urban community (7 centers); and scavenger children (1 center).
“They need your love ... We need your help!,” implores ANAK-TNK. Help can be in kind, cash or check or donations online. They can be reached at 632-435-5912 or 63-906-375-8264, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.