Pope Francis and a young girl’s question
Glyzelle Palomar, a 12-year-old girl, asked Pope Francis a question before she broke down into tears: “Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children are into prostitution. Why does God allow such things to happen?”
If God loves us, why does life torment us so much?
First, let me say that we do not live in a free country, so people are naturally afraid to ask questions. Pope Francis gave this young girl the courage to speak.
The girl asked a deeply philosophical question. Not because she wanted to know the answer but because she showed the whole world why it matters to ask. She lived the question!
In this country, only children dare ask questions and continue to dream. The young girl brings to life what Pope Francis has said, “When you lose the capacity to dream, you lose the capacity to love.”
Giving a sincere response to this question is most unbearable. As Pope Francis has showed us, we can only truly respond in silence. Difficult questions require spontaneous answers, which the Pope gave during his homily, for it challenges the very meaning of life and love.
Many among us are actually resigned to the idea that the world in which we live is unjust. Pope Francis tells us why: It is because we have forgotten to remain children at heart.
The young girl has woven a deep narrative for us to reflect. Thousands of children continually toil and suffer in this country. They are the real victims of the moral bankruptcy of many of our leaders. But God has not abandoned them. Our leaders did.
Indeed, a young girl’s innocent but troubling question should bring our leaders to their feet to make them feel embarrassed about what they must have done wrong. It is not simple though. And it is because no politician will ever learn how to cry.
Past Pope Francis, the most important message that he leaves for our leaders is this – God loves the poor!
'Don’t forget the poor'
Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, upon the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio into the papacy, is said to have embraced the latter and whispered, "Don't forget the poor!"
The above is relevant for us because the young girl’s question highlights in huge way the most difficult problem this country has not been able to solve – massive and extreme poverty.
Every single day, thousands of Filipina mothers leave their own children back home to work abroad in order to take care of other children. Being a total stranger in a foreign land, they are often victims of abuse and maltreatment.
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Pop culture portrays the poor as thieves, criminals, and good for nothing. For instance, many accuse the poor and uneducated voters of electing corrupt officials, who in turn steal from government, so to speak.
But the above hides the root cause of poverty. It blames the poor for their miserable condition. Many among us fail to realize that unjust structures steal from the poor their very future by depriving them of their just share in society’s resources.
Still, we actually have more faith in the most prominent explanation on the problem of poverty, which comes from the analysis of economic and political experts.
Expert analysis on the problem of poverty, according to liberation theologians, attributes it to the backward mentality in the Third World. It is said that the inability of poor societies to adapt to the modern way of life is considered as an impediment to progress. Science and technology are seen as key to individual and national development.
However, in their explanation, human lives are quantified; its meaning simply reduced into economic numbers. But you cannot actually measure love or compassion, or our lack of it.
There is a fundamental truth that has remained undeniable beyond all expert explanation: Selfishness is the root cause of all the suffering people have in this world.
But Pope Francis has shown us God’s love for the poor by being with them – the needy, the homeless, and the abandoned!
A systemic wrong
According to Fr. Vitaliano Gorospe, S.J., "the fundamental purpose of economic development ought not to be production and consumption, mere profit or domination, but the service of each person, the full development of the whole person and every person."
Pope Francis has opened our minds to the fact that many children in our country are not free. In the words of the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, this suffering is a kind of "barbarity” where children are “being forced to do things made much beastlier still through its congruence with bondage and effective slavery."
John Paul II notes in a 1996 Speech that the abuses against children “in its intolerable forms constitute a kind of violence," a kind of violence which the Compendium on the Social Teachings of the Church states is "beyond all political, economic and legal implications, remains essentially a moral problem."
Face of slavery
Indeed, the young girl who wept before the Supreme Pontiff has become the face of modern day child slavery. As child prostitution is linked to human poverty, economic progress is supposed to be the key to the freedom of enslaved children. But the problem is more fundamental – lack of respect for the basic humanity of the poor.
The admonition of Pope Leo XIII should serve as an eternal reminder: "The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government."
Pope Francis brings to us the message of love. But he is also telling that the reality is this: The harsh lives of children in the margins of society and culture point to a triad of evil – control, manipulation, and exploitation that are apparent in a society that favors the elite and disregards the poor.
God, being on the side of justice, means that systemic failures in the distribution of social goods, notably the opportunity to be in school, contribute to the worsening state of this social malady. Child prostitution, indeed, is a scandal that many of us are a party to.
The young girl’s pain is deep. To paraphrase Epicurus: "It is either this government is impotent for not doing enough to make education accessible to all, or it is malevolent, for allowing many private schools to continue with its kind of usury."
Being Christians, we pray that this undeserved bias and prejudice against "the least and the last" must end.
Saint Francis of Assisi, according to the Pope, “has brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity,” and by doing so, St. Francis “changed history."
Pope Francis is changing Philippine history. Hopefully, this is the answer to that young girl’s prayer! – Rappler.com
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at the Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in Applied Ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.