His Eminence Óscar Andrés Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, S.D.B.
President of Caritas Internationalis
at the Panel Discussion on
Empowering Youth to be Agents of Change in Eradicating Poverty
United Nations Headquarters
New York, 24 September 2012
Mouyad, Madleen and Amal are three young students attending university in Jordan. In their spare time they volunteer for Caritas, helping Syrian refugees find shelter, medicine and clothing.
“I can`t help people with money so I’m very happy that I can help at least this way and be of a benefit to my community” says Mouyad.
“I just put myself in the refugees’ shoes and treat them how I would like to be treated if our roles were reversed,” says Madleen.
“Helping the refugees is something that liberates me and makes me a productive individual to my society and neighbourhood,” says Amal.
All three can’t provide much in terms of material resources. But what they do have - energy, idealism, sacrifice and joy - are priceless.
I have been amazed so many times on my travels when I see the number of young men and women working every hour in the day just to help.
Whether it is in a warehouse in Peru packing aid parcels, protesting for change in Germany or working with poor communities in Mexico, young people have always been the ‘many hands that make light work’. It has been really beautiful to see.
Without these young people, the work of agencies like Caritas would be impossible. And they don't just provide a service, they bring love, compassion and tolerance in their contributions to our work.
They are our number one resource. And with a fifth of the global population who are between the ages of 15-24 years, it’s an amazing pool of talent. We must tap into if we are to eradicate poverty in our lifetimes.
But for young people to meet their full potential, they need the right environment in which to prosper. To be agents of change, young people need our support, a good education and future opportunities.
“Youth is a time of continuous discovery of life, of the world, of others and of ourselves,” said the Pope Benedict. “It is a time of openness to the future and of great longing for happiness, friendship, sharing and truth, a time when we are moved by high ideals and make great plans.” i
Young people are confronted with the same challenge wherever they live: to understand their place in the world. They can either seek to integrate into an existing order or to serve as a force to transform that order.
As Pope Benedict said, “Attentiveness to young people and their concerns, the ability to listen to them and appreciate them, is not merely something expedient; it represents a primary duty for society as a whole, for the sake of building a future of justice and peace.” ii
This starts with education. For parents, teachers and professors to fulfill their duty as educators, this means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth. iii
In our complex world, youngsters should be educated in a participative way, that enables youth to develop their capabilities to address and solve specific problems, to engage with joy in their communities and societies and serve the common good.
We have to be open to their doubts, their questions and their fears. And we have to give them orientation. It’s strange that a world which has such advanced technology to help people find their way – such as the GPS – is so disorientated.
Caritas urges governments to offer material help to families, schools and other educational institutions so they can live up to their duty to educate.
No one should be denied the access to education and parents and children must always be allowed to choose the most suitable education system for their children.
Families are the heart of any good education. In this world of economic migration, governments must also help families separated by the need to earn a living to reunite.
Lack of education breeds more poverty and more social problems. In El Salvador, Catholic Relief Services, a US Caritas member, says nearly half the population is under 18 and most young people only make it to 5th Grade.
They say whenever there are a lot of young people out of school and out of work, the possibilities for violence go up tenfold.
Without education, employment choices shrink. To have a meaningful job is key for the eradication of poverty. However the current situation is bleak. Lack of opportunities and a feeling of disenfranchisement can crush young people.
Youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa is 26.9 percent and 27.8 percent respectively. In Spain and Greece, youth unemployment is now over 50 percent. Our staff there tell us that deprivation is at the same level as after the second world war. (I should also add that as poverty as multiplied, so has community volunteering).
Nowadays, around 75 million youth are unemployed globally, 4 million more than in 2007. iv
Everyday thousands of young people are making the dangerous journey to cross the border from Mexico into Latin America. Stefani is 17, a teenager from Honduras, where murder is endemic.
“One does not escape violence in Honduras. I come from a nice family. We were happy at home. Outside, there were street gangs, prostitution, drugs and weapons. You always kept your eyes lowered,” she said.
Stefani fled last year after the motiveless murder of her father. She risked deadly injury, sexual assault and imprisonment on the migration journey to escape the poverty and violence of her home country.
Caritas gave her protection in Mexico, where gangs and traffickers prey on vulnerable people. She says she had no choice but to flee, “I left so that my family can know peace and safety.”
Caritas Brazil reports increasing violence especially against young black people. You are eleven times more likely to be murdered if you are black than white in Brazil.
Caritas Brazil has a campaign against violence targeted at young people. It involves young people as protagonists of change. Youth participate effectively in spaces of discussion, proposition and control of public policies affecting them. Giving young people responsibility for their own lives is often the first step. Alejandro Pinilla is a 22-year-old Columbian. He’s just won a prestigious award for his journalism in Latin America.
Alejandro writes, “If all of us would have the same opportunities and some of us would feel the responsibility to contribute to make this happen, our young Colombians would not dream of becoming drug traffickers, as has happened, they would stop admiring the rich and admire their teachers instead.” v
500 million young people live in developing countries, working in the agricultural sector . We know that those working in the agricultural sector face many challenges. Unpredictable seasons with heavy rains or droughts; competition by large food producers; lack of resources to invest in the land and precarious working conditions.
Caritas supports young farmers stay on the land. In most Asian countries, Caritas programmes have education components that cater to the youth.
For example, Caritas Nepal has a good Farmers' Field School programmes that caters to many young people. Sri Lanka has 40,000 war widows after the end of their civil war in 2009. That means sons and daughters must make the families living. Caritas is supporting them with livelihoods programmes and business training.
We must make changes in the way our global economy functions. We must create jobs and support small farms. This means radically rethinking our casino capitalist system. Finding pathways for young people to lead healthy and productive lives is critical to reducing violence, contributing to economic recovery and creating alternatives to migration.
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.
We must multiply our efforts and open our parishes, our communities, our offices and other relevant spaces for young people, to give them the opportunity to learn, to contribute, to live their enthusiasm and to propose changes, which we desperately need.
I’ve always rejoiced in meeting young people, as at the occasion of the past World Youth Day in Madrid. I talked with them about giving the gifts they have received to serve others and to build their lives on the solid rock that is the Lord.
Youth face a widespread prejudice: they are said to be apolitical, to prefer a hedonist lifestyle and that they do not engage in society.
World Youth Days and the many young which engage in Caritas as volunteers or those present at events, speak exactly the contrary. Young people want to be engaged.
Caritas Austria has a wonderful project called “Young Caritas”, which tries to engage the young to learn about poverty. One action to come is called “72 hours without compromise”. During these 72 hours, the young commit themselves to do a charitable action, such as cook for homeless or renovate a shelter for asylum seekers. So far 5000 have taken up the challenge.
I appeal to all young people: you can make our world more fair and peaceful. Believe in your strength – no matter where you are. Follow your heart.
Be aware of people who want to incite to violence and to people who are promising pleasure without consequences, they might take your freedom and your abilities. And live your faith and the love you have been given. In this way you will become responsible citizens and brothers and sisters to others.
We are expecting a lot of good from the youth. The Church looks to young people with hope and confidence; she encourages them to seek truth, to defend the common good, to be open to the world around them and willing to see “new things” (Is 42:9; 48:6). In return, they look to us, they have trust in us and they have hope in us and our challenge is to fulfil their hopes.
i) Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Twenty-Seventh World Youth Day 2012
ii) Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict Xvi for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1 January 2012
iv) Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012, ILO, May 2012
v) Pinilla Cadavid, Daniel Alejandro, En el suelo de nadie