Don’t forget that Jesus loves you.
This was Pope Francis’ message to the gratefully surprised orphans of Tulay ng Kabataan (TNK) in Intramuros, Manila, when the pontiff paid them an unscheduled visit on Friday.
Fr. Matthieu Dauchez, TNK Foundation executive director, said the children were surprised when they saw Pope Francis coming in as they were only expecting him to pass by after his Holy Mass at the Manila Cathedral.
The Holy Father held a Eucharistic celebration before an estimated 2,000 bishops, priests and the laity on Friday. After the Mass, he exited through a backdoor and walked with Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to the TNK located at the side of the cathedral.
Dauchez said the pontiff’s security personnel informed him about the Pope’s surprise visit a few minutes after the Holy Mass.
He added that the orphans warmly welcomed the Pope with sweet smiles and warm hugs.
“[The children] were blessed by the Holy Father, sometime later they were embracing him. He told the children he had a very simple message for them: “Don’t forget that Jesus loves you.” Very simple words, but very meaningful because street kids are like objects thrown into the garbage,” Dauchez said in an interview.
He said 40 to 50 orphans lined up to hug the Pope, and it took the pontiff about “10 minutes or 15 minutes” to hug all the children.
The TNK was founded in 1998, and is running four different programs for street children and mentally-challenged kids.
Dauchez said he noticed that Pope Francis was already exhausted, but when he saw the children his face was filled with joy as if energized by the children.
“He looked tired when he entered the center. When he saw all the children, you notice in his face a renewed energy. This is very meaningful because it means that the Pope is bringing hope to the children, and he is also drawing hope from them,” he noted.
“It was unbelievable because he entered and then . . . you know, the Pope is shouting on the rooftop of the world that we have to be close to the poor . . . we have to be ready to help them and to open our hearts to the poorest among the poor and what he did is not only work, but he was really able to put it into action … it is really wonderful,” Dauchez said.
One of those who hugged the Pope was Adrian Atis, 10.
The boy, who has been under the foundation’s care for more than seven months, said he ran to meet Francis and immediately hugged him.
“Masaya ako nung niyakap ko siya, kasi ngayon lang ako nakayakap ng Pope [I was happy when I embraced him, because it was the only time that I was able to embrace a Pope],” he added.
According to Atis, who sees the Pope as the representative of Jesus, the Holy Father is the hope of street children like him.
“Mahal na Santo Papa, mula po sa mga batang lansangan, malugod namin kayong tinatanggap sa TNK Foundation. Makahulugan ang pagbisita ninyo dito, kayo po ang kumakatawan kay Jesus para sa mga dukha. Kayo po ang nagbibigay sa amin ng pag-asa. Maraming salamat po [Dear Holy Father, from us street children, we warmly welcome you to TNK Foundation. Your visit is meaningful, you represent Jesus for the poor. You are the one who gives us hope. Thank you very much],” the boy said.