Speech at the World Congress on Families
The Pro-Family and Pro-Life movement was born not long ago and has been strongly developed during the last twenty years. Hundreds of thousands of young people joined different campaigns all around the world because they felt compelled not only to protect but also promote the most inner foundations of the human person. The Pro-Family and Pro-Life cause arose as a reaction to a disregard for the human person and its basic attributes. In other words, the consequences of the misunderstanding of the human person have resulted in the rise of a multitude of individuals, groups, institutions and movements to defend it.
I can give a bit of my personal experience in the pro-life/pro-family world. I have always been fond of it because I thought their ideas were very congruent. I thought and felt that protecting life and family was more consistent than terminating life and redefining new and equal forms of family. However, I was and I continue to be, as most of Westerners are, a very skeptical and questioning person. As a young student, whenever I confronted people thinking otherwise I argued with them because I wanted not only to convince them, but myself too, of these, I believed, universal principles. This, among other things, demonstrated to me that my ideas – as mine – were not necessarily universal and therefore that they should be constantly confronted and reformed.
As my short CV states, after I completed my studies, I went to New York willing to study law and make my way in life. I was willing to learn English, International Law, Business. I wanted to know what it meant to be a citizen of the world – that that everyone taught me since I was little. Well, I finished my semester in Fordham University and, after attending many lectures and meeting many people interested in arguing what it meant to be human, I discovered the World Youth Alliance. I remember that before joining the World Youth Alliance I had a conversation with someone who told me that humanity was a burden and a plague in serious need of control. What is astonishing to see is that I am now working in an organization fighting neo-Malthusian ideas at the institutional level.
The World Youth Alliance gave me a deep insight of what it meant to be “a citizen of the world.” The World Youth Alliance provides young people with a thorough and accessible training on anthropology (on the knowledge of self in relation to others). It provides a language that is understood by youth and policy-makers because it is rooted in clear ideas and not in fixed words or concepts. That language has the flexibility to adapt to past, current, and future viewpoints. With the World Youth Alliance I not only had the opportunity to learn what it meant to be human but also to put this knowledge into practice in international institutions, namely the United Nations and the European Union.
Well, bearing in mind my short experience I will here put forward what I think are now the challenges and strong assets the youth has for the battle ahead:
Challenges & Assets:
– The youth are desensitized: They have all, and now. The gift of self is not attractive to the youth anymore. Self-seeking takes precedence and ends up with a skeptical and hopeless youth. We need to teach youth how to see with new eyes. Josef Pieper writes in Only the lover sings “the artist will be able to perceive with new eyes the abundant wealth of all visible reality, and, thus challenged, additionally acquires the inner capacity to absorb into his mind such an exceedingly rich harvest. The capacity to see increases.”
– The youth are looking forward to finding “purpose and meaning.” Viktor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning responds the question of “how was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” This applies well to our generation, sometimes facing a serious loss of direction. They are willing to be participants and they want to have a say. They need to reach out – they long for hope. We shouldn’t miss this splendid opportunity. All these revolutionary movements, in my view (the indignant/occupy wall-street/occupy London), respond to this need. But unfortunately, the youth, and I do include myself in that group, do not necessarily understand what’s their authentic identity and vocation.
– The youth is afraid of their future. Youth are seeking security. I have spoken to plenty of young people all around the world and what worries them the most is their future employment and security. This fact relates to the desensitization.
– The youth have the potential to be the most courageous of all age groups. Shakespeare in Othellowrites “Poor and content is rich and rich enough; but a riches endless is as poor and winter to him that ever fears he shall be poor.” Even those on top of their careers may be afraid of losing something. With the promise of security, the youth can be motivated to give and offer something.
A segment of the youth doesn’t know its innermost desires – and they keep on concentrating their thoughts on the most superficial and trivial desires. We need to form a more positive and thoughtful youth. I don’t know how many of you in this room are educators or, in some way, in charge of youth. Young people are in great need for responsibility and affirmation. If those two are regained both hope and courage will return to the youth.
The World Youth Alliance offers the youth a training programme where they learn who they are by their already gotten experience and how to reach their most noble desires. The programme reviews different authors, among others, C.S. Lewis, Martin Buber, Viktor Frankl, Vaclav Havel, John Paul II, Mahatma Ghand. It analyses the most essential dimensions and expressions of the human person: dignity, freedom, solidarity, art, philosophy and international human rights law. Thus, the youth comes to realize first their noble desires and then want to put them in action. This is the education that the World Youth Alliance provides.
After this intense training, our youth members are willing to give their input and transform society. The World Youth Alliance is active in international institutions as well as in certain national parliaments to change and propose new legislation. It is our youth members themselves that propose amendments and legislative proposals. That way not only do they learn how to advocate politically but also they become fearless and hopeful, which is precisely what I identify as lacking in some young people today.
For those who have more artistic minds. The World Youth Alliance also offers young people the opportunity to showcase their artwork. WYA currently has different ongoing programmes: photography contests, film festivals and a chamber orchestra. The photography contests and film festivals are intended to animate people to live fully the basic attributes of the person: dignity, freedom and solidarity. The chamber orchestra brings to light the dignity of the person through the extremely tangible medium of classical music. The orchestra is composed of young people below the age eighteen years old who come from the most prestigious music schools in the United States.
Do I see a future in the pro-family movement? I do see the great potential of our cause and I believe that it is up to all of us to take advantage of this moment in history. I am privileged to represent the World Youth Alliance, which is an example of a great institution that responds to the needs of contemporary youth, and I commend the work that all of you do in support of the dignity of the person and the family.
** Delivered by the Director of Advocacy, Juan Ignacio Fernandez Torres at the 6th World Congress of Families in Madrid, Spain last 25-27 May 2012. Original speech in Spanish.