Building a better world for children

Building a better world for children

Pope Francis gathered 50,000 children from 100 countries to celebrate the historic first World Children’s Day in Rome’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday, May 25, and in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, May 26.

It was the first and the greatest gathering of children since United Nation established the Universal Children’s Day in 1954; the first since the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959; the first since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

Of course, it did not have anything to do with the UN’s initiatives per se. But it had so much to do with advocating, promoting and building a better world for children. It was only in December 2023 when Pope Francis contemplated on celebrating a World Children’s Day in order to get the world’s attention to the pitiful situation of about 2.3 billion of world’s children who are in the thick of poverty, conflict situations, forcible displacement and the worsening effects of environmental degradation.

Since he assumed the Petrine ministry in 2013, Pope Francis had been deeply concerned with the suffering of children worldwide. Addressing to about 30,000 young people at the University of Santo Tomas during his visit to the Philippines in January 2015, he was visibly touched with the question of a 12-year old Glyzelle Palomar, who tearfully recounted a tender life spent to forage for food from the garbage and to sleep on cardboards on the streets, who sobbed “Why did God let this happen to us?”

The Holy Father responded, “Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else. This is the first thing I want to say: let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep.”

Of late, the Pope has become increasingly disturbed with the plight of children in war, such as the killing and wounding of so many children in the ongoing attack of Russia on Ukraine since October 7, 2023, and the deaths of more than 15,000 Palestinian children in the ongoing conflict in Gaza where more than 47 percent of the population is under the age of 18.

Addressing the children at Rome Olympic Stadium, the Holy Father said, “I know wars make you said, but I want to ask: are all of you truly saddened about wars? (Children responded) “Yes!”. Today I welcomed children who fled from Ukraine and they were in a lot of pain due to the conflict. Some of them were even wounded. Is war a good thing? (Children responded) “No!”. Is peace a beautiful thing? (Children responded) “Yes!”. It makes me happy to hear children say this. You are hurting because many of your peers cannot go to school. There are so many girls and boys who cannot go to school. These are realities that I carry in my heart, and I pray for them. We need to pray for children who cannot go to school, for children who suffer because of wars, for children who have no food, and for children who are sick but have no one to take care of them.”

The World Children’s Day is latest of the three new “World Days” Pope Francis has established—after the World Day for the Poor in 2017 and the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021. All these are in pursuit of the exigency of building a future based on peace, hope and dialogue.