VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2004 ( The break between generations will be one of the most serious problems for societies in the future if its causes are not addressed, warns John Paul II.

The Pope expressed this concern in his address today to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, being held in the Vatican through May 3. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, the academy's new president, is coordinating the assembly.

"The family was the primary place of an intergenerational solidarity," the Holy Father said in his address. "There was the solidarity of marriage itself, in which spouses took each other for better or for worse and committed themselves to offer each other lifelong mutual assistance."

"This solidarity of the married couple soon extended to their children, whose education demanded a strong and lasting bond. This led in turn to solidarity between grown children and their aging parents," he added, addressing 33 academicians and experts.

"At present, relations between generations are undergoing significant changes as a result of various factors," the Pope continued.

"In many areas there has been a weakening of the marriage bond, which is often perceived as a mere contract between two individuals. The pressures of a consumer society can cause families to divert attention from the home to the workplace or to a variety of social activities," he observed.

"Children are at times perceived, even before their birth, as an obstacle to the personal fulfillment of their parents, or are seen as one object to be chosen among others," the Holy Father said.

"Intergenerational relations are thus affected, since many grown children now leave to the state or society at large the care of their aged parents," he lamented.

"The instability of the marriage bond in certain social settings likewise has led to a growing tendency for adult children to distance themselves from their parents and to delegate to third parties the natural obligation and divine command to honor one's father and mother," John Paul II said.

This has fostered "the precarious situation of many elderly persons," he said. "Many of them have insufficient resources or pensions, some suffer from physical maladies, while others no longer feel useful or are ashamed that they require special care, and all too many simply feel abandoned."

"These issues will certainly be more evident as the number of elderly increases and the population itself ages as a result of the decline in the birthrate and the availability of better medical care," the Pope noted.

The Holy Father made two proposals to address this situation.

First, "public authorities must be concerned to acknowledge the effects of an individualism" which "can seriously affect relations between different generations," he said.

Second, he said, "the family, as the origin and foundation of human society, also has an irreplaceable role in the building of intergenerational solidarity. There is no age when one ceases to be a father or mother, a son or daughter. We have a special responsibility not only towards those to whom we have given the gift of life, but also toward those from whom we have received that gift."

John Paul II founded the Academy for Social Sciences in 1994 to "promote the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences in the light of the social doctrine of the Church," as indicated in Article 1 of its statutes.

The academicians, appointed by the Pope, are chosen for their competence in their social disciplines. There is no distinction of religious confession.