The First Catholic World Children’s Day Is a Call for All of Us

Let’s live out our faith by supporting vulnerable children the best way we know how: by strengthening families.

Caring for our precious children is paramount, Pope Francis reminded the faithful in May.
Caring for our precious children is paramount, Pope Francis reminded the faithful in May. (photo: Changing the Way We Care / Catholic Relief Services)

Last month, Pope Francis hosted the inaugural Catholic World Children’s Day in Rome. The idea was born last summer after a 9-year-old boy made the suggestion to Pope Francis that children should have a day to be celebrated. “Like Jesus,” the Pope said, “we want to put children at the center and care for them.” 

The Church has long been committed to ministering to and caring for children, including the most vulnerable — those with disabilities, living in extreme poverty, or separated from their families. As we reflect on the events of the first World Children’s Day, let’s remember that we can continue the celebration and carry its message with us, and that includes reimagining how we can best care for children all around the world. 

But what does this look like? 

An estimated 5.5 million children around the world live in nearly 9,000 Catholic residential-care facilities like orphanages. At least 80% of children in these facilities have a living mother or father. Throughout my many years in the child-welfare space, I’ve come to see that, often, these parents or other family members could raise the children with the right resources and support. 

Residential-care facilities can help to meet some temporary physical needs, but they have serious limitations when it comes to supporting a developing child. If we want to care for children with the utmost love and goodness, a family setting is always best, according to research.

The good news is that many within the Catholic Church are part of a growing global movement to affirm and support the importance of family care for children. 

In Kenya, for example, the national government has developed a plan to transition children from residential-care facilities to be reunited or placed within families. These efforts have been supported by the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya, who, through their involvement with Catholic Care for Children, began to better understand the root issues for the children they cared for and the importance of family for a child’s well-being and development. This shift from residential-care facilities to family and community-based work has been gaining momentum and now also has the full support and influential voice of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

There is no doubt family is what God wants for children. That’s evident when we look at the family structure present in creation and throughout Scripture. 

And an event like World Children’s Day reminds us of the need for a Catholic theology of childhood that recognizes and honors the inherent dignity, value and beauty of all children. Created in God’s image, we want children to be able to achieve their God-given potential in the context of safe and nurturing families. 

“We are called to accompany, listen and bless the journey of families,” the Pope shared in 2021 at the start of the Year of the Family. If we can help a family avoid making the heart-wrenching decision to place their children in a residential-care facility because they lack money, access to quality education, health care or other social services, we should. 

For the children who do not have a parent who can provide safe, nurturing care, this may look different — children might live with a relative in their extended family or be welcomed into an adoptive family or a foster family. But we know that all children grow best — mind, body and spirit — when they have a secure attachment to a committed caregiver. And we know that this type of care is achievable for all children. 

The inaugural World Children’s Day was a great celebration, and now we look forward with an assignment: We the Church must follow the Holy Father’s example in listening to and learning from children from all walks of life. Through prayer and gifts of time, treasure and talent, we must challenge every person of goodwill to support the global Catholic Church in equipping families to provide a safe and nurturing home for all children. We must invest in and volunteer through the organizations and initiatives that are doing this good work.

Let’s live out our faith by supporting vulnerable children the best way we know how: by strengthening families. 

 

Anne Smith is the global director for Changing the Way We Care.