MANILA - A weeping 12-year-old Philippine girl, asking how God could allow children to become prostitutes, moved Pope Francis yesterday to hug her and appeal for everyone to show more compassion.
Glyzelle Palomar, a one-time homeless child taken in by a church charity, made her emotional plea during ceremonies at a Catholic university in Manila.
"Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution," Glyzelle told the Pope, as she stood on stage alongside a 14-year-old boy who also used to be homeless.
"Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything."
The girl broke down and wept profusely, prompting the 78-year-old pontiff with a man-of-the-people reputation to take her into his arms and hug her for a few seconds.
The Pope discarded most of the prepared speech that he had been due to give in English, reverting to his native Spanish to deliver an impromptu and heartfelt response.
"She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer, and she wasn't even able to express it in words, but in tears," the Pope told a crowd that organisers said reached 30,000. "The nucleus of your question... almost doesn't have a reply."
During the rally, the Pope also mourned a church volunteer killed during his visit to typhoon-devastated Tacloban city.
He led a moment of silence for Kristel Mae Padasas, 27, who was killed on Saturday when steel scaffolding collapsed on her as a storm battered Tacloban.
The Pope later capped his dramatic five-day visit in Asia's most Catholic nation with an open-air mass for an estimated six million rain-soaked worshippers at a sprawling public park.
The figure makes it a world-record crowd for a papal gathering.
In his homily, the Pope warned Catholics against falling for the "ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes" of modern life, including an all-consuming addiction to gadgets.
"Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programmes contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture," the Pope said.
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.