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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 98 (Suppl.), August 2005






Cardinal Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council 

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Your Excellencies, Reverend Monsignors, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the First European Meeting for the Pastoral Care of Street Children. We cannot ignore the fact that this situation is a primary and obvious consequence of an unjust system at the basis of our society. Our important objective in this regard is to start by giving visibility to all the institutional and private forces, associations and NGOs, grassroots workers, volunteers and groups working in favor of every marginalized child.

Over the course of this meeting, the reflection will aim at examining the questions and pastoral needs of the persons whose lives revolve around the street, in an attempt to understand them more and more deeply. After weighing the challenges that emerge from the analysis of the phenomenon, together we will study the most appropriate means to be confirmed or created, and see how to make pastoral workers available in this sector in the future. 

Street Children in the Light of John Paul II’s Recent Teachings

Jesus said in the Gospel: “Anyone who welcomes one little child like this in my name welcomes me. But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck” (Mt 18:5-6). The Lord also assures believers in this way: “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Pope John Paul II has not forgotten, in his ministry as pastor of the universal Church, to mention frequently the pastoral importance of attention to children, street children, and we can ascertain this from the most important references in the past ten years of his papacy.

In the Pope’s Message for the 1996 World Day of Peace, he made this exhortation: “Let us give children a future of peace! This is the confident appeal which I make to men and women of good will, and I invite everyone to help children to grow up in an environment of authentic peace. This is their right, and it is our duty (n. 1)… In some countries children are forced to work at a tender age and are often badly treated, harshly punished, and paid absurdly low wages. Because they have no way of asserting their rights, they are the easiest to blackmail and exploit (n. 5)” (Message of Pope John Paul II for the XXIX World Day of Peace).

The Holy Father also recalled the following: “For many years the International Community has taken on a praiseworthy attitude with regard to the protection of minors, which should be pointed to as an example. In far-off 1924, the Geneva Declaration on the Rights Children was undersigned, a text filled with great significance. This was followed in 1948 by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document contains two fundamental principles regarding the protection of minors: it affirms that the family is the natural and basic cell of society and that it is entitled to protection by society and the State (art. 163), and that motherhood and childhood have a right to special care and assistance. All children, whether they are born in or out of marriage, must enjoy the same social protection (art. 252). After that text, many other documents appeared, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (UN, 1959), articulated in a preamble and ten principles. Lastly, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989) should be cited. This sets down the fundamental criterion that must guide the lawmaker, judge and jurist in situations of conflict between the interest of adults and those of minors: precedence must always be given to the interest of minors” (Message to a Congress of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, December 6, 1996: La tutela del minore, n. 3: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XIX, 2 [1996], pp. 903-904).

With paternal insistence, John Paul II also stated: “Next, I would like to send cordial greetings to all those who are suffering most from the cold, especially the homeless, victims of earthquakes, the elderly and children” (Wednesday greetings, February 3, 1999: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXII, 1 [1999], p. 313).

These are the Pope’s words quoted in a telegram dated November 19, 2000 from the Secretary of State to the Director General of the International Labor Office regarding Convention 182: “No one can remain indifferent to the suffering of countless children who fall victim to intolerable exploitation and violence, not just as the result of the evil perpetrated by individuals but often as a direct consequence of corrupt social structures” (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXIII, 2 [2000], pp. 921-922).

The following expressions also spring from the bottom of the Pope’s heart: “At the beginning of a new year, dear children and young people, we cannot forget all those of your own age who are suffering hunger or violence, and those who are victims of hideous forms of exploitation. How could we forget the many children who are denied even the right to be born? When people want to build a world ignoring God and his law, they are in fact giving rise to a situation of more and more suffering and injustice” (Angelus, January 2, 2000, Children’s Jubilee, n. 3: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXIII, 1 [2000], p. 13).

The Pope also said: “The Holy Year opened with children; and it is right that it should also close with them. This is a positive sign of hope, a concrete wish for life. Above all, it is a homage to children, whom Jesus favored and by whom he loved to be surrounded. To the people and to his disciples, he pointed to the little ones as models for entering the kingdom of heaven” (Address of John Paul II to Children from Various Countries at the Closing Celebration of the Jubilee, n. 1: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXIV, 1 [2001], p. 27). The Pope also said: “Children and young people are ‘precious members of the human family, for they embody its hopes, its expectations and its potential’ (Message for the 1996 World Day of Peace). The challenge facing individuals and organizations, indeed the entire international community, is to ensure that children everywhere are given the possibility of growing up in peace and happiness” (Children Innocent Victims of War: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXIV, 1 [2001], p. 1098).

On the occasion of the Prayer for the UN Special Session on Children, the Holy Father expressed himself in this way: “This important meeting calls attention again to the scourges that continue to afflict children, the precious but also vulnerable treasure of the human family. I am thinking of war, poverty, exploitation and abuses of all kinds of which they are victims. I hope that this appointment will also arouse a renewed commitment of the International Community in favor of children so that every social action that concerns them will be inspired by authentic promotion of their human dignity and full respect for their fundamental rights” (Prayer for the UN Special Assembly on Children: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXV, 1 [2002], pp. 708-709).

In conclusion, the Holy Father recommends this to all: “To share the lot of the children who are forced to work as children …and help relieve the distress of the children who are in need. You show solidarity for the troubles and tragedies of children involved in the wars of adults and who are often victims of violence” (Message of John Paul II to the Holy Childhood Association, January 10, 2003).

Dear participants, we are gathered here to remember the past, face up to the present, and plan for the future of the Apostolate for Street Children. All of us, pastoral workers and animators, thus wish to share our experiences and apostolic efforts in order to develop what must be done in this sector to promote a human and Christian attitude towards children in and of the street, as well as to open up to the future that lies before us. This is the challenge that Christ is presenting to us today, also to open the way. May our meeting not only be an occasion for theoretical reflection, but also result in a living reality of hope, albeit with the proper realism in making an analysis of the present.

In the history of salvation, God approaches men in the variety and contradictions of their existence and accompanies them to the destination of this voyage. Our Lady is an example of constant care for her children, especially the littlest ones. May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, protect and accompany us during our meeting.

I thank you as of now for your participation. I hope that everyone’s work will be fruitful and that it will give rise to a more intense and broader engagement, on the part of the national and international pastoral workers, for an urgent ministry which an important, delicate sector of human mobility is raising for the Church today: that is, the Pastoral Care of Street Children.