Pope's Visit With Abandoned Children "An Enormous Surprise"

Director of ANAK-Tnk Foundation Recalls Impromptu Visit During Apostolic Trip To The Philippines

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“I would like the genuine joy that the children expressed to him not make one forget the scandal of evil that strikes them every day,” explained Father Matthieu Dauchez.

The Director of the ANAK-Tnk Foundation revealed to ZENIT what went on behind the scenes of Pope Francis’ impromptu visit on January 16. Founded in 1988 by a Jesuit priest, the foundation’s center in Manila takes cares of abandoned children.

ZENIT: Can you tell our readers how Pope Francis’ impromptu visit went, which was outside the program.

Father Dauchez: The Holy Father’s visit was an enormous surprise. After having celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of Manila on January 16 in the morning, he went on foot to one of the centers of the Foundation, in which most of the street children were gathered. They hoped to see him pass by; they saw him come in! It was an unforgettable moment. He stayed some 15 minutes with the children, without making great speeches, but spending most of the time embracing them tightly in his arms. Compassion was the theme of his trip to the Philippines; he made it an altogether simple reality and lived with the children of the sidewalks of Manila.

ZENIT: What did you say to him? And what did he say to you?

Father Dauchez: I only said a few brief words to the Holy Father to introduce the children he had before him. I wanted him to know that the hundreds of smiles he saw sometimes concealed very difficult histories. I wanted the genuine joy that the children expressed to him not make one forget the scandal of evil that strikes them every day. I spoke mostly in English so that everyone could understand, but I ended with a phrase in French that the Holy Father understood better, saying to him: “These children, poor among the poor, are the treasure of our Church; they are our teachers of joy.” Then Pope Francis came up to me and, in impeccable French, thanked me for the work done with these children and these families, and ended his little word of encouragement to me saying: “These children are the flesh of Christ.”

ZENIT: What impact did it have on the children who were wonderfully spontaneous, as if they already knew the Holy Father?

Father Dauchez: When the Pope’s security told us that the Holy Father was going to come to the center, I in fact wondered what the rules were to follow to receive  him … but the children did not encumber themselves with these problems. Little Alvin, whose mission it was to welcome the Holy Father, simply threw himself into his arms. And, of course, the Holy Father held him very tightly. We had the impression of seeing unfolding before us Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. Then Pope Francis approached the children who were waiting for him with great excitement, and he took the time to greet them as long a possible. The scene was terribly touching and I had great trouble containing my tears: the Vicar of Christ came to meet the most rejected … On rethinking all the terrible histories of these children, I realized, weeping, that I was witnessing an evangelical scene.

ZENIT: Do you think this visit also had an impact on Pope Francis?

Father Dauchez: Certainly, because he made reference to his meeting with the street children in his homilies at other moments of his trip. He certainly puts his words into action. The Holy Father shows great consistency: he does not only speak and encourage, but shows it in his acts. Nevertheless, I think that the greatest impact for him was to be plunged into an atmosphere of immense and genuine joy. He understood profoundly that these children share, in a profound way, the sufferings of Christ on the cross; they share, inevitably, the joy of which He is the source.

ZENIT: How many children do you receive — since when, and how?

Father Dauchez: The ANAK Foundation receives about 1,000 children divided into different programs: the street children, young people of the street with a handicap, children of the slums and ragpicker children from the rubbish dumps of Manila. It began its work in 1998 and will celebrate its 17th anniversary next summer. One of the principles of action followed is to go to encounter the poorest. Therefore, the educators of the streets go day and night to find the groups and gangs of children in the streets of Manila to get to know the situation, to get to grips with it and to try to convince them to leave the streets and come to the Foundation. However, it should be well understood that the material aspect is never the reason for a child to leave the misery of the sidewalks. He is not ready to join the Foundation until he feels that he will not be considered as a object that has been thrown into the garbage can, but rather as a child that can love and be loved as all the children of the world. The care of each one is the greatest challenge for the Foundation’s educators. It’s a mission of love.

ZENIT: How did a French priest leave for Manila to help children?

Father Dauchez: Providentially, of course. On entering the Seminary in 1995, I would never have imagined that I would find myself a few years later walking on the soil of the Philippines. On 1998, when the Foundation was founded by a Jesuit priest, we were three seminarians and one layman (the current president of ANAK-Tnk in France), who joined him to help him in this task. However very soon, on the spot, one understands that the fruits are not born except over time and when it is a question of helping rejected children, it is our whole life that they claim … However, I know to what point I am privileged to work with these children and with all the personnel that is dedicated day and night to them, because they offer us daily lessons of courage. To such a point that my question today is, rather: “How could I not have come?”

ZENIT: Glyzelle’s [the young girl who addressed the Holy Father] tears moved the whole world: have you had “returns”? Has her appeal – “Why are there so few people who come to help us?” – received responses already?

Father Dauchez: There are two questions, to be more precise. The first concerns the scandal of evil that touches these very little ones: the Holy Father responded remarkably, not in words but in his touching gestures of compassion. He clasped Glyzelle Iris and Jun in his arms. It was the most beautiful response to evil. The second question, in fact, was a sort of appeal: why do so few come to help them? The most beautiful responses are, certainly, those of anonymous persons who, without the reinforcement of publicity, seek to understand how to help their neighbor in his needs. Glyzelle Iris not only represents all children abandoned on the streets of great capitals, but also all the poor of our world, all those who suffer the most terrible curse, which is indifference. If Glyzelle Iris’s tears has pushed one or another to go visit his isolated neighbor, it’s a magnificent fruit of this scene, which went around the world!

ZENIT: What are you in most need of today? How can one contribute to help these children?

Father Dauchez: Our first and most urgent need is prayer. We can offer the street children of Manila the most perfect picture, but we would not be attending to the wounds of their hearts. Only the Good God acts in the depth of hearts; therefore, prayer is the most beautiful help that one can give us: to pray for the healing of hearts, to pray for peace, for pardon. These are the greatest miracles that one witnesses here. Material support is necessary, certainly. The Internet site www.anak-tnk.org gives all the necessary information.

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On the Web:

For more information or to make a donation to the ANAK-Tnk Foundation, go to: http://en.anak-tnk.org/

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Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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