Vatican conference on pastoral care of children

 In the last decade more than two million children have been killed in the course of armed conflict, six million have been left handicapped, tens of thousands mutilated by antipersonnel mines and 300,000 recruited as child soldiers. More than 4,300,000 children have died of AIDS. Each day in Africa alone, 7,000 are diagnosed with the illness and there are already over 14 million who have been left orphans on a account of AIDS. Poverty remains the principal cause of childhood sickness. One billion two hundred thousand people live with less than a dollar a day. Even in the richest countries, one child in six lives under the poverty line. Then there is the problem of drugs that has also extended in alarming proportions, in schools themselves. 30% of children under five suffer starvation or malnutrition and 50% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to potable water. Two hundred and fifty million children under 15 work, including some 60 million who do so in dangerous condition. According to the World Employment Organization, 120 million children between 5- 14 work full time, many 6-7 days a week, and are often forced to do so in places that lack ventilation, are badly lit, and with armed guards positioned to avoid their escape.

These are the facts mentioned by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, in presenting the Twenty-third International Conference "Pastoral Care in the Treatment of Sick Children," which takes place in the Vatican from 13 to 15 November. The Cardinal observed that "today, many children and youth are left to their own devices and instincts. Many families renounce their educational duty. Very often school education is reduced to mere information, with authentic formation being abandoned. In these circumstances, the question is: how should the pastoral care of sick children be carried out?"

The response will be seen in the 23rd International Conference, which will focus on the illnesses of these children and reflect on these issues at the light of the Word of God and later see what is to be done. "The goal that we will be going for is to see what the Word of God has to tell us about the cure of children," Cardinal Barragan explained.

Bishop Jose L Redrado OH, Secretary of the same Pontifical Council, highlighted the fact that pastoral service should play an important role in the child-parent relationship, especially the child-mother relationship. "The best pastoral service that can be offered, therefore, is a continual discrete presence, an organized and coordinated presence, that places emphasis on the basic needs of those in the hospital, at the center being the sick child, surrounded by his parents and medical personnel." He later spoke of the need to follow the example of Jesus, the Apostles, and many evangelizers "who do not shy away from difficulties, but arm themselves with strength, enthusiasm, and hope. We need to train ourselves in the gifts of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, benevolence, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control" (Gal 5:22), strength, hope, convinced that the great works are a fruit from God, however they require our collaboration. Thus a new evangelization will be begun: one that is new in vigour, new in methods, new in expressions. These are the bases and the criteria on which we should organize our pastoral service in the paediatrics hospitals, guaranteeing the evangelizing presence."

"The Chaplain should be like an 'older brother,' a 'friend' who never fails, who is close-by to give security and clear the darkness in which you all of a sudden find yourself," Fr Felice Ruffini, Undersecretary of the same Pontifical Council, said. "It is not an easy mission, to carry the light on a young person's path of trials and darkness, as they are prisoners of intense bodily suffering, or perhaps at risk for nearing the end of his earthly path," said Fr Ruffini, who affirmed: "Normally, the Chaplain will not have the task of working a miracle, but yes, that of 'Consoler,' mentioned by Saint Paul, who says that the only source of consolation is God, through Christ and His Spirit. This is a wonderful mission ­ to be a Chaplain in a Pediatric Ward ­ although it has its moments of difficulties and drama. However, there are also moments of great spiritual joy, to see that among the 'little patients' there are heroic witnesses to 'complete in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of His Body, which is the Church'"

Source: Fides

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