GOD’S CHILDREN IN OUR STREETS

By Vi P. Hernandez

          SECOND OF TWO PARTS

            For the past 16 years, the Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation (TnK) has been rescuing neglected and abused children from the streets, slums and dumpsites of Metro Manila.

Founded in 1998 by Fr. Jean Francois Thomas S.J., a French Jesuit priest, TnK and Anak-TnK, its fund-raising arm, have quietly and faithfully gone about their mission of “mercy and compassion,” long before the slogan. With its 24 centers caring for about 1,300 former street children (more than any other NGO for street children), TnK has surprisingly remained “under the radar” all this time — until the morning Pope Francis decided to drop by its center in Intramuros, at the invitation of a thousand TnK children.

“EVEN US?”

Five months earlier, in August 2014, after the Pope announced that he was coming to the Philippines to personally condole with the survivors of the horrific super typhoon Yolanda, the foundation, under its executive director, Fr. Martin Dauchez, launched a media campaign to drum up awareness of the TnK children’s collective dream to meet the Pope.

The campaign dubbed, “Even Us?” expressed the dreams of a thousand former street children. They had heard that Pope Francis is a kind man who loves the poor, especially the old, the sick and the young and also cares for those who are suffering like the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, the primary reason for his Pastoral Visit. They wondered, “Once the Pope learns that we are children who suffered too, will he come and visit even us?”

The following October, when the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, left for Rome to attend the Extraordinary Gathering of the Synod of Bishops, he carried and personally delivered to the Holy Father a box containing 1,000 dreams — 1,000 letters, written, drawn or scrawled by TnK children who were inviting the Pope to come and visit them.

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