MANILA, Philippines — In a trademark off-the-cuff flourish, Pope Francis on Sunday demanded greater social attention to women’s voices, saying “sometimes we’re too chauvinistic” and “we don’t allow room for women.”
“Women are capable of seeing things from a different angle than men,” he said, adding that women pose questions that men are not able to understand.
“Women have a lot of things to say to us in today’s society,” Francis said.
The comments came in a morning session with more than 20,000 young people gathered at a Catholic university in Manila.
It was another taste for Francis of the waterproof faith of Filipino Catholics, thousands of whom spent the night at the grounds of the university despite a tropical storm that’s hitting Manila, producing strong winds and rain.
As he did yesterday during a visit to a typhoon zone in the central Philippines, Francis donned a disposal yellow poncho at the end of the encounter in order to plunge into the crowd.
Visibly touched by three brief reflections from Filipino youth, Pope Francis deviated from his prepared speech. He seemed especially moved by the words of a young girl named Glycelle Aries Palomar, inducing him to praise women generally.
“Women have a lot of things to say to us in today’s society,” Francis said. “Sometimes we’re too chauvinistic, and we don’t allow room for women.”
The 12-year old girl, the only female among the three speakers, had asked the pope, “Why does God allow children to suffer?”
“She, today, asked the only question that doesn’t have an answer,” Francis said.
Francis also seemed a bit put off there weren’t more women in the mix at the university event.
“So when the next pope comes to Manila, make sure there are more women,” he said.
Palomar, the girl who spoke to the pope, was rescued from the streets by a Filipino non-governmental organization (NGO). She broke down in tears after asking Francis why children fall victim to drugs or prostitution, and why there are so few people willing to help them.
The pope told her that the nucleus of her question barely had an answer.
“Only when the heart is able to ask the question and cry, do we understand something,” he said.
Palomar later had the chance to greet the pope, who kissed her head and gave her a hug as she wept.
In other impromptu points, Francis said there’s a worldly compassion which is useless, meaning giving something to the poor simply by reaching to one’s pockets.
“If Christ had had that kind of compassion,” he said, “he would have walked by, healed three or four people, and moved on back to the Father.”
“Today’s world,” he said, “needs to cry.”
Only the discarded and marginalized, who have been used and abused by society, are crying, he said. Those who lead a comfortable life don’t know how to cry, how to actually care for those in need.
“There are some realities of life that are only visible through the eyes cleansed by our tears,” he said.
Francis has repeatedly voiced a desire for stronger roles for women, both in society and in the Catholic Church.
For instance, in July 2014 the pope appointed new members for an advisory body to the Vatican’s doctrinal office that included five women. He said on that occasion he wants to see women participating in the “important decisions … where the authority of the Church is exercised.”
“The greater presence of women — although they are not many — is a call to reflect on the role women can and must have in the field of theology,” he said.
Francis has ruled out, however, the ordination of women as priests, and has also said he will not consider naming female cardinals.