by Olivia E. Nuñez Orellana, Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II for Sciences of Marriage and the Family, Mexico
Despite the efforts that have been made in recent decades in many countries –and also those that have been undertaken jointly by the countries–, the evidence reported in the latest reports presented by the UN Security Council, the World Bank and UNICEF, and also those we can see in the daily reality of the different countries, is that minors are the most vulnerable population in society, and we are still far from resolving it. In some cases, the vulnerability has the face of hunger, in others, it looks like recruitment for armed conflict, death and illness, anxiety due to situations of war or insecurity, lack of access to education, abandonment due to migration of parents, instability of situations of refugee mobility. In countries with outstanding economic development, the vulnerability of minors often has the face of loneliness, confusion and boredom due to the lack of solid emotional ties even when they have unrestricted access to technological devices. The truth is that children and teenagers are the members of society who are most exposed to injustice and suffering.
Despite laudable efforts to alleviate this situation, it remains imperative for society as a whole to respond effectively to the need to protect children from the many dangers that surround them, and also to the need to build an environment that protects, encourages and promotes their development in all areas of their lives.
It is obvious that the vulnerability of minors to the different crises situations at different latitudes and crisis experienced by today’s society must be the focus of the reflection and oblige everyone to respond immediately. What is at stake in leaving minors out of development opportunities is not only the particular future of each of them, but also the future and stability of society as a whole.
When the drama experienced by each child or teenager is generalised, becomes statistics or is mentioned only from a speech that expresses good intentions, all this contributes to seeing it without looking, to knowing a reality without recognising the face of persons who, being defenceless, only expect someone to have the courage to become their voice and to make us look deeply into their eyes. Thus we diminish the importance and remain detached from that reality.
It is then when the words of the Gospel mentioned by Pope Francis in his message in Lampedusa, with which he expressed the desire to «offer some thoughts meant to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart.
“Adam, where are you?” This is the first question which God asks man after his sin. “Adam, where are you?”. Adam lost his bearings, his place in creation, because he thought he could be powerful, able to control everything, to be God. Harmony was lost; man erred and this error occurs over and over again also in relationships with others. “The other” is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort. God asks a second question: “Cain, where is your brother?”. The illusion of being powerful, of being as great as God, even of being God himself, leads to a whole series of errors, a chain of death, even to the spilling of a brother’s blood!
God’s two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever! How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed».
Where is your brother? It is a question to you and me, which can refer to the little brother in the womb who is annihilated, to the little one enslaved, exploited, violated, abandoned or hungry. They are the children and youngsters who are disoriented, confused by the seduction of the culture of death.
Quoting again those powerful words that call us to the commitment to the most needy brothers and sisters, especially children and youngsters in situations of injustice and suffering:
«Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul…!”, and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!
[...] We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – “suffering with” others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!».
It is clear and alarming that the condition of minors, who are the most vulnerable beings in society, requires not only personal but also community reflection which should be fundamental within society. This is not only because the way we look at children today is undoubtedly the best investment we can make in building a prosperous and civilised future. If we continue ignoring the situations that afflict minors, we would be condemning the whole society to perpetuate injustice and suffering and eventually to its annihilation.
But this reflection does not intend to consolidate a hopeless or catastrophic mood, nor to place us in a paralysis with a defeated look. On the contrary, it is about a reflection that invites us to open ourselves to reorganise the priorities of the academic, pastoral, legislative, assistance and especially family work. It is a matter of discovering the “educational emergency”, which was pointed out by H. H. Benedict XVI and which has revitalised the efforts to concentrate, on the one hand, on the family as a privileged sphere for the apprehension of values and, on the other hand, on accompaniment, more like a journey with the other from the height of his/her gaze to the height of the possibility of his/her realisation, in contrast to that educational conception which considered education as the imposition of a world view.
«It has never been easy to educate, but we must not surrender: we should fall short of the mandate that the Lord himself gave us, calling us to tend his flock with love. Let us rather reawaken in our communities that passion for teaching, which is a passion for the “I” for the “you”, for the “we”, for God, that is not fulfilled in didactics, in a collection of techniques and not even in the transmission of dry principles», he stated. This new way of educating needs trustworthy references: «the family above all, with its distinctive and inalienable role; the school, a common horizon beyond membership of any ideological choice; the parish, “the village fountain”, a place and an experience which initiates the faith in the fabric of everyday relationships». To give priority to supporting the family is to give priority to the care and accompaniment of minors in order to promote their development in all areas. This must be done from the international community to pastoral programmes, passing through local policies and, of course, the economic and educational spheres.
The small pieces of society will give back its importance to the family, and family has the greatest possibilities of building a safe, welcoming and promoting environment for people from the beginning of their lives.