The testimony of a sobbing 12-year-old girl, a survivor of drugs and prostitution, stirred Francis Sunday morning, moving him to set aside his prepared text to talk for over half an hour off the cuff.
The young girl, Glyzelle Palomar, said to the Pope: “Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution.”
“Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything,” she said.
The girl burst into tears and could not finish her text, which visibly moved Francis. In front of more than 30,000 young people, he embraced her, and placed his hand on her head.
“Today I have heard the only question that has no answer,” the Pope said, switching to his native Spanish. “At the core of your question there is no answer: only when we are able to weep over the things you said can we get closer to finding the answer to that question.”
“This is a big question,” Francis said. “Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? Only when the heart is crying can we respond. A worldly compassion is of no use here, moving us at most to give something out of our wallet.”
“If Christ had that kind of compassion, he would have just passed by, greeted a few people, given them something and moved on,” he said.
“Dear young friends, in today’s world there is an inability to cry,” he said. “Certain necessities of life can only be seen through eyes filled with tears.”
“I invite each of you to ask yourself: Have I learned to cry? When I see a child cast out, on drugs, abandoned, abused, used as a slave? First of all we need to learn to cry, as she taught has taught us today.”
The Pope also put forth the example of Jesus in feeling compassion. “In the Gospel Jesus wept for his dead friend,” Francis said. “He wept inside for the family that had lost a daughter; he wept when he saw the poor widow burying her son; he was moved to tears when he saw the multitude without a shepherd.”
“If you do not learn to cry, you’re not good Christians.”
The presence of Glyzelle, the only girl among the four children to address the Pope, moved Francis to emphasize the value of women in society. At the beginning of his speech, the Pope had complained about the under-representation of girls in the testimonies of the young.
“Women have much to say in today’s society. Sometimes we act macho and we do not allow women to express themselves. Women are able to see things with special eyes. Women are able to ask questions that men are not even capable of understanding. Look at what happened today. The little girl asked the question with her tears.”
“The next time a pope comes to Manila, please, let there be more women present!”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome