Child Poverty in Germany

Interview With Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin

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By Britta Dorre

ROME, MARCH 6, 2012 ( In Berlin more than one child out of three under 15 years of age depends on social benefits. 

Guaranteeing growing children access to basic services, with breakfast and at least one hot meal a day is done by charitable organizations such as Jean Vanier’s L’Arche and Caritas, said the newly-created Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Berlin.

The situation is particularly serious for those children and youngsters who cannot do anything by themselves to change and remain trapped in a system that, also once they are adults, denies them opportunities for growth.

ZENIT: Cardinal, how can the high percentage of children hit by poverty be explained?

Cardinal Woelki: Children are the main victims of their parents’ poverty. Even if the greater part of parents try to provide for their offspring with the means at their disposal, the poverty of parents is omnipresent in the daily life of children. Poor parents and their children have fewer opportunities for participation and – as Caritas’ present campaign explains – for leading a healthy life.

Measures such as the Bildungspaket (Editor’s note: Education Package, which offers educational aid to poor children), decided by politicians, point in the right direction. It is clear that of all the persons hit, children are the least responsible for the conditions of poverty and the ones who can least defended themselves from it. They are, in any case, the weakest link of the chain and find themselves, moreover, in a vicious circle.

ZENIT: With what measures and projects does the Church help?

Cardinal Woelki: The Church helps in several ways: suffice it to think of the many day nurseries run by the Church, the initiatives of many parishes and parish associations and of social services and Caritas’ institutions. There they experience God’s support, who recognizes, esteems and loves every person, regardless of their profession, income or social status.

Encouragement, help and support strengthen people’s confidence in their ability to take up their destiny in their own hands.

In addition to important measures and concrete projects to combat poverty there is the public promotion of solidarity and correct relations in politics and society. At the level of the Catholic Church, this happens through statements of bishops or of Catholic associations, through initiatives at the level of individual Bundeslander (Editor’s note: Regions) or also in direct contact with political leaders.

ZENIT: Do you have the impression that our society is paying sufficient attention to the problem and is seriously committed to finding a solution?

Cardinal Woelki: The media, politics, the churches with their welfare associations and also organizations such as UNICEF and the League for the Protection of Children follow with great attention developments in the matter of poverty and of child poverty. In East Germany or metropolitan areas such as Berlin and the Ruhr region the situation is very worrying now. The question is if blaming politics unilaterally can be of help. Poverty is a social phenomenon; hence, in my opinion it is a question above all of joining the social forces to find solutions together. The objective should not be a simple redistribution of funds. It is a question of increasing the participation of persons in social life.

ZENIT: How can Christians contribute to improve the situation in a lasting way?

Cardinal Woelki: First of all, as all others, Christians can take part in the initiatives and projects to combat poverty in their vicinity. In addition to this, they can also give witness of the love of God. Christians can make the love of God be experienced by loving their neighbor. In the best of cases, works of charity can also become an experience of God, for both parties.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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