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Reflections on the occasion of the first World Children's Day. Pope Francis summoned them to Rome to put them at the center of everyone's attention

by Don Gabriele Cantaluppi

In the logo of the first World Children's Day, which will be held in Rome in May 2024, the handprints in different colors represent the multiple cultures, called to form a unity that welcomes and values ​​differences; the stylized profile of the dome of San Pietro recalls the Church, guardian of the future of the new generations; the dome lantern is a metaphor for the Christian "light bearers" and the cross is obviously the symbol of the passion and resurrection of Jesus.

It is almost an icon, which will accompany the children's meeting with the Pope on May 25-26. Organized by the Dicastery for Culture and Education, it will be an appropriate opportunity to put children, who are the present and future of humanity, back at the center of global attention.

In some previous meetings, Pope Francis had already indicated a dream, that of returning to having "pure feelings like children, which teach us the clarity of relationships, the spontaneous welcome of strangers and respect for all creation".

World Children's Day in May 2024 will propose the theme of transmitting the faith to the little ones, which risks being almost a deteriorated thread. Now the Church has wanted to invest in a particular way in this fundamental passage. The ages of the boys and girls who will participate will be from five to twelve years old and they will come to Rome even from remote regions, as well as from war zones such as Palestine and Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria.

The Day first had a diocesan level, organized by the local Churches, preparatory to the meeting in Rome. This will take place in two moments: the gathering on May 25th at the Olympic Stadium, where the Pope will talk with the children, and the following day in St. Peter's Square, with the Eucharistic celebration, the recitation of theAngelus and greetings to children from all over the world. The choice of the Olympic Stadium also wants to send a clear message: sport is an important educational tool for young people, it can help deal with defeats and is capable of creating integration experiences.

It was the Pope himself who explained how the idea of ​​this World Day was born. In a podcast???, on the eve of World Youth Day 2023, it was a nine-year-old boy, Alessandro, who asked him: "Will there one day be a world day for children too?". Francesco's response was not long in coming: on 6 November 2023 he met over seven thousand children from all over the world and on the following 8 December he announced the spring 2024 appointment.

The characteristic of children is their ability to bring and welcome new things; they are the most beautiful and lively commentary, written in flesh, blood and spirit, on the passage from the Apocalypse: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21, 5), which is the theme chosen by Francis for the encounter. Children are mediators of joy, and in a time of gloomy prospects like the one we live in, they represent a concrete hope for humanity.

Let's go back for a moment to the handprints, present in the logo. Handprints are already found in rock paintings inside the caves inhabited by primitive men; they are the sign that our ancestors wanted to leave for future generations. In this way those men began to write their history, which over time has also become ours. In turn, the children repeat this same gesture when they begin to draw, and thus, in each of them, the history of the entire human species and the possibility of a new beginning relives.

The maestro Monsignor Marco Frisina composed the anthem of the Day, entitled We are, which expresses in its refrain, joyful and solemn, the strength of the hope that children spread with their presence, the contagious serenity of their smile: «We are the joy and hope, we are the novelty of the world. We are the future, we are life, we are the sign of love. We will bring our song of peace to the world, a smile for those who no longer have one. And we will be a sign of hope."

Pope Francis places great trust in them and exhorts them: «Do not forget those of you, still so small, who already find themselves fighting against illnesses and difficulties, in hospital or at home, those who are victims of war and violence, those who suffer hunger and thirst, those who live on the streets, those who are forced to become soldiers or flee as refugees, separated from their parents, those who cannot go to school, those who are victims of criminal gangs, drugs or other forms of slavery, of abuse. In short, all those children whose childhood is still cruelly stolen today."

The day, with moments of conviviality, prayer and training, is a proposal for evangelization in the face of the rampant religious illiteracy of young and very young people. But it can also be read as a call to put the little ones back at the center of the interest of society and families, a positive initiative after too many cases of exploitation and abuse that have emerged in recent decades.

Pope Francis with his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exultate he explained that holiness is accessible and practicable by everyone. Today many young people are presented as "witnesses of faith", even without being candidates for the glory of the altars. According to the Second Vatican Council, holiness is the perfection of charity, the divine and human love of Jesus that the Holy Spirit spreads in our hearts. There are saints among the youngest and even among children, Christians who had a short but intense life, prematurely broken by death but filled with this love, and now live eternally in the Church of heaven.

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