Warning Sounded on the Plight of Street Children

International Meeting Urges Specialized Pastoral Program

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ROME, DEC. 10, 2004 (Zenit.org).- An international meeting on the plight of street children says there is an urgent need for a pastoral program to help the youngsters.

Street children are a “‘snapshot’ of the society in which they live, which has not supported them,” but rather “in some way has caused” their predicament, and allowed them to drift, concluded the participants of the first International Meeting for the Pastoral Care of Street Children.

These were the conclusions of the Oct. 25-26 meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. The Rome meeting gathered members of the dicastery, as well as representatives of 18 bishops’ conferences from around the world, and experts in the field.

John Paul II sent a message of encouragement to the participants, expressing his desire that they formulate proposals to help youngsters at risk.

The number of street children worldwide — 100 million, according to Amnesty International; 150 million, according to the International Labor Organization — constitutes a “social emergency, in addition to a pastoral” emergency, the participants said in a statement. They criticized public institutions for not mobilizing adequately with programs of “prevention and recovery.”

Strictly speaking, “children ‘of’ the street” are those who are “deprived of ties with their original nuclear families,” making “the street their home,” the conferees said.

They were also concerned about the “worrying phenomenon” of “children ‘on’ the street” in developed countries, who “prefer to live day to day with little or no responsibility for formation.”

The participants outlined a list of causes behind the phenomenon of street children: the “growing disintegration” of the family and “situations of tension between parents”; emigration; poverty; the spread of alcoholism and other drug dependencies; prostitution; wars; and social conflicts.

As well, there is the spread of a culture “of transgression,” lack of reference values, loneliness, and an “ever-more profound” sense of “existential emptiness that characterizes the world of youth in general.”

In contrast to the lack of involvement of public authorities — according to the meeting’s participants — private social intervention and the work of volunteers is “appreciable.”

However, though “active and efficient,” partnership of an “ecclesial framework and Christian inspiration” is “absolutely inadequate given the magnitude of the needs,” and seems “disconnected” from a specialized pastoral program.

Thus, the participants of the international meeting recommended the preparation of a “specific pastoral program for these children, articulating new strategies and ways in order to put them in contact with the liberating and healing force of the Gospel.”

“Only a minority of initiatives in the ecclesial realm goes beyond interventions of social assistance and psycho-pedagogy,” they noted.

There is a need, they added, to respond to “the urgent invitation to a new evangelization, which the Holy Father has been repeating for years” because only “an encounter with the Risen Christ can give back the joy of resurrection to one who is in death.”

This makes it imperative to move from “the pastoral program of waiting to the pastoral program of encounter,” going directly to the children “in the ‘angry’ areas of our cities,” the participants said in their conclusions.

The pastoral programs must include many interventions that “give street children the possibility of being supported in establishing a new relationship with themselves, with others, with God, with the community to which they belong or which they have adopted, and to discover that there is someone who loves them.”

Communities and groups should be established — in or outside of the parish — where youths have the possibility to know and live the Gospel, the participants said.

Further, there must be schools of prayer in parishes and ecclesial institutions, formation of evangelization teams and “missionary” youths, formation centers for street evangelization, alternative meeting places for youngsters which offer options full of values and meaning, and centers where they can begin their journey of interior healing based on the Gospel, they stated.

Whenever possible, work must also be done with the original families of street children, to assist them in the “reconstruction of the family fabric and the gradual support and reinsertion” of street children in their homes.

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