Voices Online Edition
Volume XVII, No. 3
Heroic Youth - A Tonic in Tough Times
World Youth Alliance at World Youth Day
by Mary Jo Anderson
Hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth gathered in Toronto in July for World Youth Day 2002 and their biennial meeting with Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father has often exhorted these young pilgrims to be the "salt and the light" of the world. Surely these fresh hearts are a major element of the pope's prayer for a "new spring time" in the Church.
Among the hundreds of groups participating in events held during World Youth Day was a heroic phalanx of young leaders, the World Youth Alliance. Despite the festival atmosphere of World Youth Day, WYA delivered a series of hard-hitting topics to the Catholic professionals of tomorrow at a two-day Forum on The Dignity of the Human Person. The roster of speakers was impressive -- among them, US ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, and George Weigel, columnist and papal biographer. How does a group of twenty-somethings command such names for its program?
The short answer is that WYA has earned respect at the international level and is a source of hope for the "culture of life" the Forum speakers seek to promote. WYA members have addressed the United Nations General Assembly on matters critical to the culture of life -- family and children. WYA is a politically savvy organization that describes itself as "a global coalition of young people and youth organizations committed to promoting the dignity of the person at the international level and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing countries".
Though not exclusively Catholic in membership, WYA was founded by a remarkable young Catholic Canadian woman, Anna Halpine. Halpine and other young Catholics responded to a call in 1999 from Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to assist pro-family organizations at the United Nations as an answer to abortion-rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations who attend UN meetings) such as Planned Parenthood. The pro-life youth were out-manned and out maneuvered by Planned Parenthood-groomed youth, at the time, but were quick to reenter the fight. Anna Halpine was not deterred; she formed the World Youth Alliance. A dramatic confrontation between two distinct groups of youth followed in 2000.
Planned Parenthood arrived at UN headquarters in New York in 2000 with a hand-picked crew of youth claiming to speak for "the youth of the world". The United Nations' Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994, was reassessed at "Cairo+5" in 1999. The UN's 1995 Beijing conference on Women was up for its five-year review, "Beijing+5". Radical proponents of abortion rights and population control, led by Clinton appointees, attempted to codify in UN documents a universal right to abortion. The Holy See and its allies had thwarted that same goal in 1994 in Cairo and in Beijing in 1995.
The Youth Caucus assembled by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and International and Planned Parenthood Federation for the "+5" reviews were carefully selected and coached. They told the delegates of 170 nations that the "youth of the world" demanded "sexual rights", including access to contraceptives and abortion without parental consent.
WYA members from a dozen nations outnumbered the shocked abortion-rights youth. WYA dominated the Youth Caucus and defeated each pro-abortion resolution that came to the table for a vote. WYA members insisted that the caucus address legitimate needs: education, clean water, basic health care, and adequate housing.
WYA lobbyists were so effective that key UNFPA officials were literally brought to tears of frustration. The European Women's Lobby, enraged by the success of WYA's persuasive discourse with delegates, published a bulletin circulated to European delegates detailing a "threat to the five-year review process caused by a large presence" of "numerous right-wing fundamentalists" who were "focusing on the youth caucus, under an initiative which is called the World Youth Alliance".
The radical leftist European Women's Lobby insisted that the NGO community must "stand united in our efforts to minimize their influence". High praise indeed! The EWL bulletin urged "EU governments to take a firm stand opposing any language changes and efforts to undermine the sexual and reproductive rights of women, and to insist on this point during the negotiations".
Halpine responded, "The European Women's Lobby is excluding anyone who does not agree with their political agenda".
Several radical NGOs charged that "the Vatican" created and financed the Alliance. Most young people who attend the UN proceedings under the Alliance banner finance their own travel.
The 2001 World Summit for Children negotiations witnessed the WYA in full sail. Groups of youth, carefully selected, funded and coached by radical abortion-rights NGOs, agitated for a child's right to an unprecedented autonomy from parents on a range of issues. Most disturbing are freedom of association, freedom to "express one's views", and the "right to sex education and reproductive and sexual health services", a code phrase for abortion and contraception. Adolescents covered under such provisions are 10-18 year olds. The goal was to change the standard language in the negotiated document, "A World Fit for Children". Radicals hope to side-step the family-friendly language of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which serves as a basis for all "rights" language in UN documents.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 16) clearly states, "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state". That language is repeated in the preamble of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which declares: "Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding". To circumvent this basic philosophy on the family now enshrined at the international level, leftist NGOs and delegations have coined obfuscating terms such as "various forms of the family". Under that term lesbian couples are categorized as a "family".
Emilia, an eighteen-year-old Alliance member, stood before the United Nations General Assembly and addressed the children's issues confronting the world body: "The best chance for healthy adolescent development has been proven to be within the natural married family". She continued, "One major injustice inflicted upon children today is the violation of their innocence. The imparting of inappropriate sex information dissociated from any moral principle has persistently failed to improve the welfare of children and has had the adverse effect of sexualizing the young child. The need to protect children, born and unborn, cannot be overstated. Stable, loving families are the only assurance for the full development of the child. It is only within a nurturing and protective framework that the child can learn to build a civilization of love".
WYA Forum at World Youth Day
Today World Youth Alliance boasts more than a million members on every continent -- a phenomenal achievement by any measure. While only a few hundred members are engaged in international negotiations at the United Nations and the European Parliament, the Alliance works at the grassroots to rebuild a culture of life. Part of that grassroots effort includes the Forum held during World Youth Day in Toronto.
Mark de Young, 28, is director of the North American region for World Youth Alliance. He speaks confidently of the Alliance's methods. "We are not about force, but persuasion. We bring to youth a philosophy of the human person. Our goal is to make a cultural transformation". De Young was quick to point out how the Forum topics and speakers promoted that goal, "We need a new language to address the culture - to get beyond the rhetoric".
The WYA Forum opened with George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, a biography of Pope John Paul II. "The pope made his commitment to a culture of life at your age", Weigel told the group of more than 1000 listeners. Tacitly acknowledging the magnitude of the culture of death in which they live, Weigel challenged his young audience to take the Holy Father as a role model, "John Paul II rejected the secular utopia of Communism -- he confronted evil despite overwhelming odds".
Weigel addressed the youth in a sober tone, sketching a philosophic pathway to authentic freedom. "I am a person -- I can think, choose, act deliberately". He outlined the gift of human freedom: "Freedom is not 'doing it my way', but the freedom to do the right thing, the right way for the right reasons".
Economist Father Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and whose articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, guided the future leaders of society through a primer on the importance of professional excellence. He stated, "Man is a composite of both heaven and earth; the transcendent reality is not the only reality". To denigrate worldly work and profit is not holy, he said. "The material world is good. God said so. After creating the world and all that is in it, He said, 'it is good'. We have the task to balance the spiritual and the material for lay people the normative vocation is in the marketplace". Work is holy, Father Sirico said, thus at Mass we say, "fruit of the vine and work of human hands".
He challenged his young listeners to "Christo-finalize" the workplace. "When you pursue excellence, you are seeking God". The key to this challenge of creating a Christ-like environment in the marketplace is to grasp the true dignity of human labor and the sanctity of work, he said.
Nothing galvanizes a crowd of young people so much as a discussion of sex. Professor Janet Smith's love of students builds an immediate bond with them. Listing the statistics of destructive relationships, she chastised the apostles of "free love" and the sexual revolution. "Don't do what we did, it landed us in a lot of trouble", warned the author of Humane Vitae: A Generation Later and Why Humane Vitae Was Right.
Dr. Smith's review of Adam and Eve was both entertaining and serious theology of the body. "The physicality of the male and female is obvious -- they must be joined for completeness". She speaks authoritatively on contraception: a mystical element is introduced, "Each marital embrace is an invitation to God to create a new soul". She deftly addressed young people's fears of failed relationships and divorce, and listed four principles for a lasting relationship in marriage:
1. No sex before marriage: faithfulness to your future spouse begins now. Confession and re-committed chastity for those who have engaged in sex before marriage.
2. Get married in the Church, go to Church, pray and invite God into your relationship.
3. Don't use contraceptives. Couples practicing Natural Family Planning rarely divorce.
4. Tithe: Get God, sex and money in the right order.
Father Roger Landry, a young priest from Fall River, Massachusetts, told his audience that real men are not afraid to love deeply. Hearing a priest speak unabashedly of "warrior" saints and robust "knightly" men in his talk on "Real Masculinity" brought cheers.
"Men love by giving", he said. Modern society has perverted the natural male desire to give and morphed the male into a taker -- taking "love" without responsibility, he said. Love is shown in deeds; fatherhood (physical and spiritual) is to protect (give your life if necessary) and to provide (give of your substance). Men understand the importance of authority and thus are obedient to God. True masculinity, said Father Landry, reveres the soldierly virtues: die for the truth; be dutiful; be loyal to the commander; be tender and compassionate without being soft; be sacrificial.
Ambassador Jim Nicholson, the sixth US ambassador to the Vatican, praised the World Youth Alliance for their stellar work. "This is really an important event ... hope for the free world depends on you". Nicholson is the image of "true masculinity". A former Army Ranger, he has turned his talents to building a culture of love.
Ambassador Nicholson reviewed the foundations of secular freedoms as grounded in Christian truth, "all men possess dignity given them by God". He reminded the youth that Pope John Paul II called them to service -- to rebuild culture in the image of God. Echoing remarks of the Holy Father, he recalled how the world has changed since September 11, 2001. The pope had spoken with the ambassador two days after the terrorist attacks. "This was not just an attack on the United States, but an attack on humanity".
Our era is witness to an ever-escalating assault on the human person, making more urgent our task to build a new culture. Ambassador Nicholson left his young listeners with these challenges:
- Love your life -- it is God's gift.
- Respect your freedom, it has not come cheaply.
- Protect your religion.
- Work to make others free.
Outside Queen Elizabeth Hall, the venue for the World Youth Alliance Forum, swarms of happy Catholic youth sang and danced, consumed pizza and funnel cakes, and simply rejoiced in life.
For some, perhaps, it was an occasion for merriment only. Yet only hours later the Holy Father would summon all the power of his compelling presence to call his young flock to battle: "Build a culture of life. Do not wait until you are old. Do it now".
Mary Jo Anderson, a member of Voices editorial board, writes on the United Nations and family issues for Crisis, WorldNet Daily, and other publications, and her commentaries have appeared on radio and television.
United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Beijing Platform for Action, March 2,2005
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