Authorities in the Philippines engaged in an extensive effort to clear Manila’s streets of homeless children, a Daily Mail report uncovered, to shield Pope Francis from witnessing the crushing poverty the capital’s homeless face. Children were rounded up and caged in jail cells, made to eat scraps of food on the floor, and beaten by older inmates.
The Daily Mail report, made possible due to the work of 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, unveils jail cells occupied with children as young as five who have been taken away from bridge and doorway areas homeless Manila residents are known to frequent. The report estimates that “hundreds” of children have been rounded up and kept in jails, euphemistically labeled “shelters,” where they are forced to live in squalor.
The children, the report notes, are “kept behind bars, made to go to the toilet in buckets and fed leftovers which they eat from the floor.” One particularly dangerous aspect of the “shelter” system is that children are chained into cells with adult prison inmates, who routinely abuse them.
The Daily Mail notes that this is not the first time such raids on areas where homeless children lived have occurred. To avoid international shame, police will routinely arrest children and keep them off the streets when any international attention comes to Manila. Most recently, such arrests were made to “clean up” the city for President Obama’s visit last year.
Before making a public appearance in the Philippines, Pope Francis emphasized that his message to the people of that nation would be to care for and honor the poor. “The central nut of the message will be the poor, the poor who want to go forward, the poor who suffered from Typhoon Haiyan and are continuing to suffer the consequences,” he told reporters upon initially arriving in Manila.
Speaking to a crowd of 20,000 in Manila Friday, the Pope denounced materialism, condemning those who live comfortable lifestyles. “While all too many people live in dire poverty,” he argued, “others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality.”
Father Cullen told the Daily Mail that, despite his overtures to the impoverished, it is highly unlikely that Pope Francis will interact with the imprisoned children: “Sadly, there is no way the Pope will be visiting these detention centres in Manila. They are a shame on the nation. Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the Pope seeing children treated in this way.”