MANILA, Philippines — In a session with families on Friday in Manila, Pope Francis offered some vintage off-the-cuff homespun advice to married couples, telling them to “never stop dreaming” of each other, and, no matter how long they’ve been married, “never stop dating.”
The impromptu flash of marriage counseling came as part of a session with thousands of families from all over the Philippines, where the pope also offered some more sober reflections on threats facing family life.
Earlier in the day, Francis continued his penchant for unscheduled visits while on tour, surprising 300 children with an unannounced stop at a Manila center that helps street children and those living in slums. The stop came in response to a campaign to entice the pontiff to come that was launched in September by homeless children.
The children had the support of Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who used a trip to Rome last October for the Synod of Bishops on the family to hand-deliver a thousand letters from children asking for a papal visit to one of the 28 shelters run by the Anak-Tnk foundation, founded in 1998 by a Jesuit priest.
Tagle’s move was part of an awareness campaign called “Even Us,” which included a three-minute video portraying the neglected, battered, and sexually abused children who scrape by in the streets of Manila, who asked for the pontiff to include them in his schedule.
During his three-day visit to Sri Lanka, Francis made another unplanned stop, paying a visit to a Buddhist temple Wednesday night.
The meeting with families was held in Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena, where Francis denounced several pressures: natural disasters, an economic situation that causes families to be separated by migration, and people living in dire poverty while others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles he said were destructive of the family.
“The family is also threatened,” said Francis “by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
As a way to overcome these threats, the pope urged the 15,000 who were at the arena to pray as families.
“In the family, we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish,” said the pope, who added that “we learn to move beyond our needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them.”
Toward the end, Francis requested that a special concern be shown for those who don’t have a family of their own, particularly the elderly and orphans.
“Never let them feel isolated, alone and abandoned, but help them to know that God has not forgotten them,” said Francis.
As part of the meeting, three families gave testimonies focused on the difficulties faced by families living in poverty, divided by forced migration, and with members suffering a disability.
On Saturday, Francis will visit the typhoon-battered island of Leyte, where he’ll celebrate Mass and have lunch with a group of survivors of super-typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda here) and the 7.2 magnitude Bohol earthquake, both of which occurred in 2013.
The following day, he’ll celebrate a Mass expected to attract more than 6 million faithful, breaking the all-time record for a papal gathering owned by the Filipinos, which took place at a Mass by John Paul II in 1995.
On Monday, the pontiff will head back to Rome.