Pope hears advice from Cherie Blair

Cherie Blair, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has told a Vatican conference that young people should be encouraged to listen to their consciences, rather than just a set of rules prescribed by the Church.

Catholic News Service reports that the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences conference, which concludes tomorrow, is dedicated to the theme: "Vanishing youth? Solidarity with children and young people in an age of turbulence."

Blair was a surprise guest at the opening session and spoke about her experience as a human rights lawyer, a Catholic and a mother.

She told the plenary that parents today need to carve time from their busy schedules and invest it in conversations with their children.

The adult-child relationship must be based not on "dogmatic assertion" but on love and listening, she said. The Church's role, she told participants, is not just to prescribe a set of rules but to encourage youths to look at social reality with an informed eye.

After her talk, she met privately with the Pope, who did not attend the conference.

In his message to participants, the Pope said young people are by nature receptive, generous, idealistic and open to transcendence. But he said many of them today grow up in a society "forgetful of God" and driven by a materialistic vision of life and happiness.

In family life, he said, the lack of creative love has caused many marriages to fail and birth-rates to fall significantly.

"It is children and young people who are often the first to experience the consequences of this eclipse of love and hope. Often, instead of feeling loved and cherished, they appear to be merely tolerated," he said.

The pope also touched on one of the themes taken up by the conference - the so-called "demographic winter" in many developed countries.

While statistics on population growth are open to interpretation, the Pope said, there is general agreement that the planet is witnessing two significant and interconnected trends: an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in birthrates.

"As societies are growing older, many nations or groups of nations lack a sufficient number of young people to renew their population," he said.

Papal message, speech by Cherie Blair open plenary on young people (Catholic News Service 28/4/06)

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Cherie Blair Gets Private Audience With Pope (Zenit 26/4/06)
Papal Message to Academy of Social Sciences (Zenit 26/4/06)
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1 May 2006