MANILA, Philippines — After praying publicly at a youth gathering for the repose of the soul of a Catholic Relief Services worker killed the previous day, Pope Francis met Jan. 18 with her father and her maternal uncle.
Kristel Padasas, 27, of Manila, who worked with a recovery project for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, died after the papal Mass in Tacloban when high winds blew over scaffolding. She had traveled from Samar Island, where her project is based, to volunteer at the Mass.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila told reporters that he translated at the meeting.
“The Holy Father was searching for words,” the cardinal said. “How do you console with words a father who just lost his only child? The Holy Father did not apologize for his lack of words, but he was there” and let his presence speak.
“I think what struck the Holy Father was the statement of the father of Kristel. At first he said he felt devastated and he even asked God, you know, ‘I have only one child, why is she taken away from me?'” the cardinal said.
“But then it surprised the Holy Father when this grieving father said, ‘I have accepted this. I have resigned myself to the fact that my daughter’s no longer with me. I rejoice that she died serving other people, especially serving this visit of the Holy Father. So it’s a meaningful death,'” the cardinal quoted the father as saying
The young woman’s father explained that he had decided to stay home and watch the papal visit on television because he was certain the expected crowds meant he would not be able to get anywhere near Pope Francis.
“‘Then,’ he said, ‘my daughter died. She arranged this meeting with the Holy Father.’ And when I translated that for the Holy Father, the Holy Father just shook his head and said, ‘What faith. What faith,'” the cardinal said.
“I think the Holy Father was surprised, in a pleasant way, that here he was trying to show compassion and mercy, but this grieving man witnessed to his faith before the Holy Father.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that for the meeting, the young woman’s father brought two photographs that were kept on the table as they spoke: One was a recent photo and another was of her as a little girl with her mother and father.
During the meeting, Father Lombardi said, there was an attempt to reach the young woman’s mother by telephone in Hong Kong.
“The pope had the idea, as he very often does, to call,” but it was unsuccessful.
CRS staffers were stunned and mourned Padasas’ death, offering prayers for her family.
“Her colleagues remember her as someone who loved to laugh and who was always ready to assist outside her normal duties,” said a Jan. 17 statement from CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. “She found great joy in being able to contribute to the recovery effort by working directly with communities and families.”
“Her dedication to the people affected by the typhoon extended beyond her official work with CRS,” the statement added. “She traveled a great distance to volunteer at today’s papal Mass and to remember the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.”