By Beth Griffin Catholic News Service
UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — Societal transformation “often begins with the zeal, enthusiasm and creativity of young people who challenge us to see things in new ways,” a Honduran cardinal told participants at a U.N. forum Sept. 24.
Young people also often “approach life with great passion and dedication,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa said at the event, sponsored by the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. The theme was “Empowering Youth to be Agents of Change in Eradicating Poverty.”
“The voices of the young are important. We need to listen to their aspirations and dreams, their struggles and challenges, if we are to help them create an enabling environment for a more inclusive, just and equitable society,” said the cardinal, who is president of Caritas Internationalis, the church’s umbrella organization for charities. He also is head of the Honduran bishops’ conference.
“In many societies, the young do not have access to power or are excluded from influencing the debates that affect their lives,” he said.
Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 comprise one-fifth of the world’s population, he said, and are “an amazing pool of talent we must tap into if we are to eradicate poverty in our lifetimes.”
Youth unemployment and lack of basic needs and education prevent young people from achieving their full potential, he added. “Providing them with access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation frees them to grow into productive citizens.”
He paraphrased St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, which is his religious order.
The order’s mission is to produce “good Christians and honest citizens,” Cardinal Rodriguez said. “Awakening an openness to God and his work and presence is the key to success.”
Education should include opportunity for sports and outings that expose youths to other cultures and give them more resources to engage in a globalized world, he said.
Like St. Bosco, the Salesians encourage young people to develop a spiritual life without proselytizing, Cardinal Rodriguez said.
Young people everywhere are confronted with the challenge of understanding their place in the world, he said. “They can either seek to integrate into an existing order or to serve as a force to transform that order.”
Adults should be open to youths’ doubts, questions and fears and help them find their way. “It’s strange that a world which has such advanced technology to help people find their way, such as the GPS, is so disorientated,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Rodriguez said governments must make changes to the global economy, create jobs, support small farms, and find pathways for young people to lead healthy and productive lives. “In the shadow of the economic crisis that looms over society, there is a growing expectation in the youth that the dawn is close at hand. We must reassure them it is,” he said.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states, said providing support to families — the fundamental unit of society — is critical to helping youths overcome poverty. He said youths must have access to education that includes training in ethics and morality.
Salesian Brother Jean Paul Muller, the order’s economer general, said Salesians working in 132 countries employ a holistic approach to educating teens. It includes helping youths get a professional degree, earn fair wages and “to experience their own dignity and to live it, to configure their life dream as a vocation and to get actively involved in improving their social situation in their direct environment,” he said.
As an example, Brother Muller said some countries have children’s parliaments, allowing youths to voice their concerns.
“Young people are precious gemstones which often are not recognized in the dust of the streets. Only if you approach them and remove the dust from them, you may recognize the immeasurable value of their existence,” Brother Muller said.
He said it is a challenge to overcome local prejudices when advocating for the needs of juvenile delinquents, street children and minorities who lack full access to society.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa said social justice must become globalized. Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “The foundation of peace is social justice. If everyone took to heart the basic Christian social fundamentals, we wouldn’t have problems in the world.”
Violence in Central America is caused by the drug trade between South and North America, and is not a problem he can solve, Lobo said.
“The consumer market in the North creates production in the South and our misfortune is to be in the middle of all this. We can’t change our geographic location,” he said. “There is a lot of hypocrisy, because if those who are causing the problem don’t change, the situation will remain the same.”
Cardinal Rodriguez said the biggest problem in Latin America is that spiritual values are not promoted in families.
“In the past, children learned the commandments of the Lord and respect for life. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Now, parents are not educated in their faith and cannot transmit the spiritual values,” he said.
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, papal nuncio to the United Nations, said the day’s event and a larger U.N. discussion on the rule of law recognized that “if we are to empower youth to be agents of change to address poverty, we must move beyond merely technical and legalistic solutions and instead promote a holistic solution so that we can address the needs of people in all aspects of their lives.”