A message in every direction about the need to protect children and preserve childhood was sent by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during a keynote address dedicated to World Children’s Day, held on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 at the initiative of the World Council of Churches , at its Geneva Headquarters, in cooperation with UNICEF. The Ecumenical Patriarch was the keynote speaker of the event, attended by celebrities from around the world, and as a part of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the WCC, to which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has made a decisive contribution.
“At this moment, our eyes are turned not to our common past, but toward our common future: our children. It is important to bear in mind that children do not only represent our future, but that they are in fact the present upon which the future is being built,” noted the Ecumenical Patriarch, and at another point in his speech in English inter alia, stressed: “Protecting children from any kind of violence has always been and should remain an essential message of Christianity. Therefore, Christians are called to protect children both in society and within their own communities.” He expressed the satisfaction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the cooperation between UNICEF and the World Council of Churches in this direction.
“We encouraged Churches to protect children from the plague of mortality, hunger and enforced labor; abuse and psychological violence; as well as the dangers of uncontrolled exposure to contemporary electronic means of communication, which can negatively affect their souls and their behavior,” said His All-Holiness, recalling the appeal he had made with his Christmas Message in 2016 to all the faithful and to every man of good will, to respect the identity and sanctity of childhood. In this context, he continued, the Ecumenical Patriarchate devoted the Year 2017 to the “Protection of the Sacredness of Childhood”.
“Today, we also face many other challenges that affect children. The impressive developments that have been achieved in the sectors of technology and communication constitute a serious threat against the dignity of childhood, with the computer and the Internet dominating every aspect of individual and social life. Some of the consequences of this change include the so-called “disappearance of childhood,” the loss of the innocence of children and an early induction into adulthood. Children are, indeed, growing up very quickly, and the impact that parents and family have on their formation is weakened when the Internet functions as a primary source of values on a global scale,” said His All-Holiness, pointing out that an electronic device can not be a substitute for the relationship that the child develops with his parents, teachers or any person who has day-to-day care, nor can they satisfy his vital needs for physical activity and personal communication.
“While humanity has labored for the protection and preservation of childhood in the last century, the “century of the child” and the “century of education,” we are shortening the span of childhood through the “optical” and “digital” revolution of the Internet, television, smartphones and tablets. That means that the power of formation and the space where we can educate children is shrinking,” he said, and referred in particular to the dominance of the economy and culture of consumerism. As a result, the Patriarch noted that today children are treated as “consumer units” and as “markets” and childhood is transformed into a “financial class”.
The Ecumenical Patriarch gave special emphasis to the effects of globalization on climate change and on modern migratory flows, which significantly affect children, which are the most vulnerable part of any society. Particular reference was made to those children who live in situations of war and conflict, experiencing refugees and immigration, as well as the aftermath of the general ecological disaster. “In 2015 and 2016, three-hundred thousand children across the globe were in migratory situations with no adults to accompany them. This is five times larger than the same statistic in 2010 and 2011. These children and young people traverse dangerous paths to reach their destination, such as routes through the Aegean and the central Mediterranean, and are often separated from their families, fleeing from violence, misery, poverty or catastrophes related to ecological disasters.”
His All-Holiness recalled the visit he made with Pope Francis of Rome and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens to the refugee camp of Moria and referred to their joint appeal that “the Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb. It is a place of life, a crossroad of cultures and civilizations, a place of exchange and dialogue.” He noted that immigration, refugees and climate change are closely linked and will continue to be the biggest challenges humanity has to face in the years to come. “That is why our Churches must undertake initiatives that promote the protection of the environment and subsequently, our children“.
Concluding his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew expressed the warm support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the relevant WCC initiatives, including the recently adopted “Child Safeguarding Policy” as well as the UNICEF actions. “Migratory children are often the first to be affected by war, conflict, climate change and poverty. Their protection is the shared responsibility of our Churches,” he said, and pointed out that the Orthodox Church defends children’s rights and works to promote the protection of their personality and dignity.
The WCC Secretary General, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch, referring to the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to protect children’s rights and to raise awareness of global public opinion. The WCC Secretary General said that the Ecumenical Patriarch may be known as the “Green Patriarch”, but could also be called the “Patriarch of the Children”.
After the keynote speech of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the event was welcomed by Mr. Philip Cori, a representative of UNICEF.
The Ecumenical Patriarch met with the approximately 80 children attending the Hellenic Primary School of Geneva-Lausanne, where he spoke in fatherly way, blessed them and their parents, distributed them chocolates, and pulled together commemorative photos.
Then, together with the children and the delegates, they attended a puppet show on the meaning of Christians’ collaboration within the framework of the WCC, for the benefit of the children and the whole world.