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Vanishing Youth? Next Generation Solidarity

Rome Meeting Highlights Responsibilities and Challenges

ROME, MAY 14, 2006 (Zenit) - A recent Rome meeting looked at the "generation gap" from a different perspective. Instead of the normal worries about youths' bad behavior, the topic under discussion was the adult generation's obligations to help younger people.

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences held its 12th plenary session April 28-May 2 on the theme: "Vanishing Youth? Solidarity with Young People in an Age of Turbulence." On the first day's morning session, Cardinal López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, took up the topic of "The Gift of Life."

He focused on the earliest moments of the relationship between the two generations: that is, the transmission of life. Human procreation, the cardinal explained, is seen by the Church as the fruit of total self-giving. In this context children are considered as the supreme gift of marriage, and the family is a sort of sanctuary of life.

Children are both a gift and a responsibility, the cardinal pointed out -- a gift that comes, in first place, from God. They are also a joint responsibility for husband and wife. The "we" of the parents becomes the "we" of the family and from the first moments of a child's life a process of education begins. Unfortunately, if the parents do not fulfill this responsibility, then children pay a high price. In some cases they can be considered as "orphans with living parents," said Cardinal López Trujillo.

Families also face challenges from outside, he added, referring to pressures from neo-Malthusian circles that seek to restrict the number of children. Other difficulties stem from within, when a selfish view of sexuality prevails, in which love is not given as a gift, but is reduced to pleasure.

In the face of these difficulties Cardinal López Trujillo called upon families to provide children with values on which they can build to give meaning to life and to themselves. This "urgent need to communicate certainties," he said, is all the more important in a world that extols subjectivism and moral relativism.

In his presentation, Kenneth Arrow, an economics professor at Stanford University, argued that the ethical obligations of parents to children have not been thoroughly explored. Today's secular discourse sees all individuals as having rights and obligations, Arrow said, "but there is no special emphasis on the parent-child relation."

Valuing children

Seen from an economic perspective, resources flow from parents to children, who are not yet productive members of society. So, in a utilitarian perspective it is difficult to develop a theory of justice that would provide sufficient accommodation for children. Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker took economic theory a step further, by considering children as durable consumer goods, hence allowing their welfare to enter into a family's welfare. Seen from this perspective, parents act as trustees for their children.

Arrow considered it important to further develop this concept of the trusteeship of parents. This is particularly important in the light of the ever-greater number of single-parent households. The spread of unilateral divorce has had a significant negative impact on children's welfare, he added. Moreover, the state's capacity to compensate for the defects of poor family situations is very limited.

Pierpaolo Donati, from the University of Bologna, also looked at some of the problems faced by children and young people. Among the challenges he mentioned:

-- Science and technology applied to human procreation threaten the dignity of the human being right from the moment of conception.

-- The erosion of the family as a social institution removes one of the primary protections for children.

-- Economic pressures have diverse manifestations: the exploitation of minors as workers; a disregard for those who are not producers; and pressure to adopt a lifestyle centered on materialism.

-- Psychological and cultural pressures make the transition from adolescence to adulthood more problematic.

Donati also noted that, paradoxically, the proliferation of declarations and charters of children's rights and reports on their situation has done little to improve matters. In many cases they have become little more than an indicator of problems, more than achieving any real progress in protecting children.

Overall, Donati insisted, we need to question the type of world civilization we are building and what place children and young people will have in this civilization. Too often, he said, today's secularized culture is taken up with a fear of the future, perceiving only the risks and difficulties.

Against this view the Church expresses hope in young people. Donati quoted Pope John Paul II's words in "Tertio ...

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