By Hannah Brockhaus, CNA/EWTN News
Speaking to kids at a home for orphaned and abandoned children on Friday, Pope Francis said they have much to offer the world by being themselves and sharing their experiences.
“The world needs you, young men and women… and it needs you as you are. Do not be content to be the last car on the train of society, letting yourselves be pulled along and eventually disconnected. We need you to be the engine, always pressing forward,” the Pope said Jan. 19.
“Share what you learn with the world, because the world needs you to be yourselves, who you really are, and not an imitation of someone else. We need you to be authentic, young men and women who are proud to belong to the Amazonian peoples and who can offer humanity an alternative for a true life.”
Francis spoke at the “Hogar Principito” (“Little Prince Home”) in Puerto Maldonado on the second day of his Jan. 18-21 visit to Peru. The children's home was founded in 1996 to help deal with with the high rate of neglect and child exploitation that occur in the city.
It currently houses around 40 children and adolescents, who have come from orphanages, at-risk families, or illegal mining camps. Some have been abandoned or been victims of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.
Pope Francis met with the children and their caretakers on the basketball court of the home.
Before his speech he was greeted by the director of the home, Fr. Xavier Arbex, and listened to the testimony of Dirsey Irarica Piña, a woman who was raised in the home. He also watched performances by the children of songs and a choreographed dance.
Irarica described having been orphaned at the age of 11, and being welcomed into the Hogar Principito a couple of years later, saying the home “was ready immediately to give me the fullness of support and love … I thank my teachers and the 'little father' for filling this void in me. Thank you for this unconditional love which makes us feel at home.”
She now lives in Tacna, where she works and studies psychology.
In his address after listening to Irarica, the Pope referenced the recent celebration of Christmas, where our hearts were touched by the coming of the Child Jesus.
“He is our treasure. You children are his reflection, and you too are a treasure for all of us, the most precious treasure that we have, and one that we are called to guard,” Francis said.
He asked forgiveness for the times that adults have neglected to care for them and protect them as they deserve, saying how their lives demand a greater commitment and effort on the part of everyone – that we do not remain indifferent to children who suffer and are in need.
“Without a doubt, you are the greatest treasure that is ours to care for,” he underlined.
Speaking to Irarica, who gave a testimony before his speech, he said she was brave to share that sometimes she feels very hurt, and misses her father and mother.
“You told me; ‘I hope my message may be a light of hope,’” the Pope referenced. “But let me tell you something. Your life, your words, and the lives of all of you, are a light of hope.”
He said a wonderful witness “is offered by all of you young people who have travelled this road, who found love in this home and now are able to shape your own future! You demonstrate to all of us the enormous potential of each person. For these boys and girls, you are the best example to follow, a sign of hope that they will be able to do the same. We all need good role models: children need to look to the future and have positive role models.”
“Everything that you young people can do, like coming here to be with them, to play and spend time together, is important,” Pope Francis said. “Be for them, as the Little Prince says: the little stars that light up the night,” referring to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry character for whom the children's home is named.
The Pope went on to note how the children who came from indigenous communities may have been witness to the destruction of their home, saying: “today those woodlands have been laid waste by the intoxication of a misguided notion of progress.”
“Young people, do not be resigned to what is happening! Do not renounce the legacy you have received from your elders, or your lives and dreams.”
He also encouraged them to study and to take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them.
“Listen to your elders; value their traditions; do not curb your curiosity. Get in touch with your roots, but at the same time open your eyes to new things; bring the old and the new together in your own way,” he encouraged.
Society often needs correction and you, young people, can help greatly with this “by teaching us a way of life based on protection and care, not on the destruction of everything that stands in the way of our greed,” he said.