In a visit to a children’s home in Colombia, Pope Francis said Saturday that we can never accept the mistreatment or suffering of children, who are Jesus’ favorites, and need our protection for a hope-filled future.
“To see children suffer, wounds our hearts because children are Jesus’ favorites. We can never accept that they are mistreated, that they are denied the right to live out their childhood peacefully and joyfully, that they are denied a future of hope,” the Pope said Sept. 9. “Jesus, however, never abandons those who suffer, much less you, boys and girls, who are his special ones.”
Pope Francis spoke to children, caregivers and teachers during a visit to a children's home in the Boston neighborhood of Medellin. Across five locations, the homes provide care and education to 630 children from all over the country who have lost their families through death, abandonment, displacement due to armed conflict, or extreme poverty. They also care for children who have escaped violence caused by guerilla groups and drug traffickers or neglect or mistreatment from parents.
Founded more than 100 years ago, they now have three homes for primary school-aged children, a high school program which opened in 1999, and “St. Joseph's Workshop” for children ages 2-5. Many of those in the preschool program are the children of women who are imprisoned or in prostitution. The program aims to create as close to a home and family environment as possible, providing the children with love and affection in addition to the necessities of food, education, and housing.
One young student, Claudia Yesenia, gave a testimony on her life to the Pope. “Hearing all of the difficulties you experienced, I thought of the unjust suffering of so many boys and girls throughout the world, who have been and continue to be innocent victims of the evil that others commit,” he responded. Despite all of these horrible things, however, there are signs of Jesus’ love for you and desire to be close to you, he encouraged, such as the children’s home and the care of good people.
“I think of those who direct this house, the sisters, the staff and so many others who are already a part of your family. For this is what you do here, you make this place a home: the warmth of a family where we feel loved, protected, accepted, cared for and accompanied,” he noted.
Pope Francis asked the children if they remembered what is written in St. Matthew's Gospel when Herod decides to kill the Infant Jesus. Do you remember “how, in a dream, God spoke to Saint Joseph by means of an angel, and entrusted to his care and protection his most valuable treasures: Jesus and Mary?” he asked.
Joseph then obeyed immediately, taking the baby Jesus and his mother Mary to Egypt for safety. “I am sure that, just as Saint Joseph protected and defended the Holy Family from danger, so too he is defending you, caring for you and accompanying you,” he said. And alongside him are Jesus and Mary, who always accompany him.
The Pope reminded the religious and lay people who care for the children of two parts of the Christian identity – “the love that knows how to see Jesus present in the smallest and weakest, and the sacred duty of bringing children to Jesus.” He commended them and all the joys and hardships of their work to St. Joseph’s protection.
“Learn from him, that his example may inspire you and help you in your loving care for these little ones, who are the future of Colombian society, of the world and of the Church, so that like Jesus, they may grow and be strengthened in wisdom and grace, before God and others.”
Concluding, he promised to pray for all of them that they may “grow in love, peace and happiness,” and their “wounds of body and heart” heal. “God will not abandon you, but protect you and help you. And the Pope will keep you in his heart. Please do not forget to pray for me,” he said.