Pope mourns dead church volunteer, speaks out against child abuse at emotional rally in Manila

Pope Francis huggin children during a meeting with young people at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Jan 18, 2015. An emotional Pope Francis, moved by the tears of an abandoned child, said on Sunday the world needed to "learn how to cry" ove
Pope Francis huggin children during a meeting with young people at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Jan 18, 2015. An emotional Pope Francis, moved by the tears of an abandoned child, said on Sunday the world needed to "learn how to cry" over the plight of the millions of poor, hungry, homeless and abused children. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Pope Francis mourned a church volunteer killed during his visit to the typhoon-devastated Tacloban city in an emotional rally on Sunday attended by hundreds of thousands of young people at a centuries-old Catholic university here.

The 78-year-old Pontiff led a moment of silence for Ms Kristel Mae Padasas, 27, who was killed on Saturday when a steel scaffolding collapsed on her as a storm battered Tacloban.

Honouring her memory, Pope Francis let the huge gathering of worshippers at the 403-year-old University of Sto Tomas (UST) know that Ms Padasas was an only daughter, and that her mother has been working in Hong Kong.

The Pope was forced to cut short a mercy mission to survivors of Supertyphoon Haiyan on Saturday as a storm bore down on Tacloban.

Haiyan left over 7,000 dead and millions homeless when it tore through the central Philippines in November 2013.

Pope Francis delivered a truncated, but emotional, mass for over 200,000 at the airport in Tacloban, but he was forced to scrap plans to spend the entire day in the city and neighbouring Palo town, amid gusts and heavy rain.

He returned to Manila hours ahead of schedule.

In an emotional moment during the Pope's rally at UST, a 12-year-old girl, Glyzelle Iris Palomar, broke down before she could finish a narrative of her hard life as a street child that she said had exposed her to prostitution and drugs.

Glyzelle and a teenager, Jun Chura, 14, were brought in to talk about child abuse. Both used to live in the streets before they were taken in by a church-run foster home for street children, many of whom were once child prostitutes.

Pope Francis, visibly moved and nearly in tears, consoled the two with rosaries and a grandfatherly embrace.

He later asked in his homily: "Why do the children suffer so much? Why do children suffer?"

The Pope also waded into the global debate on climate change for a second time in his trip.

"As stewards of God's creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling," he said in a text prepared for his homily that is considered official although he did not read it to the crowd.

A storm has been battering the capital Manila, but that has not stopped millions of devotees from amassing since midnight at the sprawling Luneta Park for a mass on on Sunday that will cap Pope Francis' dramatic trip to Asia's most Catholic nation.

As of noon, despite a steady downpour and with many roads closed, at least a million storm-hardened Filipinos walked as far as 5km to converge around an altar set up at a grandstand, wearing ponchos and holding umbrellas.

The Luneta mass will be held at 3.30pm, and officials estimate the crowd will peak at six million.

rdancel@sph.com.sg