Vatican Discusses Plight of Sick Children

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A meeting taking place in the Vatican this week will address the staggering numbers of children worldwide who live without adequate health care or in areas of conflict that leave thousands killed or maimed every year. It will also discuss those children who adopt unhealthy lifestyles due to inadequate attention from their parents.

The focus of the Twenty-third International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, meeting in Rome Nov. 13-15, will be on pastoral care in the treatment of suffering children.

Speaking at a news conference today, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Council, outlined the seriousness of the problem.

“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.”

In addition, poverty remains the principal cause of sickness in young children, he said.

“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. . . .Two hundred and fifty million children under 15 work, including some 60 million who do so in dangerous conditions”, while “many children and adolescents are left to their own devices.”

Lack of parental control leaves many more children vulnerable to unhealthy lifestyles. 

“There are no controls on television programmes or on the Internet where they navigate without any kind of moral guidance,” the Cardinal said.

“The sex trade, pedophilia, violence in schools, crimes, organised bands, etc., are all growing phenomena. … Many families have relinquished their duty to educate” their children and “very often school education is reduced to mere information, with authentic formation being abandoned.”

During the first part of the conference, 41 experts from various countries will take a serious look at the origin of childhood diseases and infant mortality rates around the world.

“We will then study the principal sicknesses to which children are exposed before evaluating whether globalisation represents an opportunity or a risk for the sick,” the Cardinal said.

“We will also examine the question of lifestyle and diet. . . . As concerns the political side of the question, we will study . . .  legislation and healthcare systems . . . In its ecological aspects we will consider initiatives undertaken by the World Health Organisation.”

The second part of conference will focus on “what Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church have to tell us about the cure of children, examining what those cures were over the course of Church history and the witness of the saints who consecrated their lives to caring for sick children,” the Cardinal said.

The third part of the conference is dedicated to “Action,” the Cardinal said.

“What kind of catechesis and formation in the faith do we need in order to face this serious problem? How must we proceed in sacramental terms towards these children? How can we use the psychological sciences in this form of treatment? We will examine research into medicines, nutrition and lifestyle,” he said.

Cardinal Barragan concluded by saying, “At a personal level, we will ask ourselves about the role of the diocese, of the parish, of religious orders and congregations, and of volunteers” in addressing these serious problems in the health and well-being of the world’s children.

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