Pope Francis Laments the Spiritual Poverty in a Culture That Leads to Teen Suicides

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans between ages 10-14 and 20-34.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with a group of young people after his general audience Aug. 17, 2022.
Pope Francis poses for a photo with a group of young people after his general audience Aug. 17, 2022. (photo: Pablo Esparza/CNA / EWTN)

Pope Francis has said that the rise in teen suicides points to a deeper spiritual poverty in our culture today that leads young people to believe they are failures.

In his message for the 2023 World Day of the Poor, the Pope wrote that he could not fail to mention “an increasingly evident form of poverty that affects young people.”

“How much frustration and how many suicides are being caused by the illusions created by a culture that leads young people to think that they are ‘losers,’ ‘good for nothing,’” he said.

“Let us help them react to these malign influences and find ways to help them grow into self-assured and generous men and women.”

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans between ages 10-14 and 20-34. Data released this year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 22% of high school students reported seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021.

The Pope warned that a culture of “haste” can prevent us from stopping to care for others. He added that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan “continues to challenge each of us in the here and now of our daily lives.”

“It is easy to delegate charity to others, yet the calling of every Christian is to become personally involved,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope noted that youth are particularly vulnerable to cultural changes that have led people to “disregard anything that is unpleasant or causes suffering and exalt physical qualities as if they were the primary goal in life.”

“We are living in times that are not particularly sensitive to the needs of the poor. The pressure  to adopt an affluent lifestyle increases, while the voices of those dwelling in poverty tend to go unheard,” he said.

Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in 2016 at the end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. The day is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the feast of Christ the King.

The seventh World Day of the Poor will be celebrated on Nov. 19 with the theme “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor,” taken from the Book of Tobit 4:7.

In the message, signed on the June 13 feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, the Pope highlighted how “dramatic price increases” have further impoverished many families. 

“If a family has to choose between food for nourishment and medical care, then we need to pay attention to the voices of those who uphold the right to both goods in the name of the dignity of the human person,” he said.

Pope Francis also lamented problems affecting workers, including “the inhumane treatment meted out to many male and female laborers; inadequate pay for work done; the scourge of job insecurity; and the excessive number of accident-related deaths, often the result of a mentality that chooses quick profit over a secure workplace.”

“We are reminded of the insistence of St. John Paul II that ‘the primary basis of the value of work is man himself… However true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place, work is ‘for man’ and not man  ‘for work,’” he said, quoting John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens.

Francis, who is currently recovering in the hospital after a hernia surgery, wrote that “caring for the poor is more than simply a matter of a hasty handout.”

He said that caring for the poor requires “reestablishing the just interpersonal relationships that poverty harms” and leads us to “enjoy the benefits of mercy and charity that give meaning and value to our entire Christian life.”

“What the poor need is certainly our humanity, our hearts open to love,” Pope Francis said.

“Faith teaches us that every poor person is a son or daughter of God and that Christ is present in them. ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40).”

Pope Francis also quoted St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who wrote in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” that “charity must not remain locked in the depths of one’s heart.”

“‘No one,’ Jesus says, ‘lights a candle to put it under a bushel basket, but puts it on a candlestand, so that it can give light to everyone in the house.’ For me, that candle represents the charity that must give light and bring joy not only to those dearest to me, but to everyone in the house, with the exception of none,” the French Carmelite nun wrote. 

Pope Francis added: “In this house of ours, which is the world, everyone has a right to experience the light of charity; no one must be deprived of that light. May the steadfast love of St. Thérése stir our hearts on this World Day of the Poor and help us not to ‘turn our face away from anyone who is poor’ but to keep it always focused on the human and divine face of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.”

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