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Luc Van Looy

Catholic Bishop, Belgium

My home is about 50 km away from Bruxelles. If I want to be there for a meeting at 09.00 AM I better leave home at 05.45 and yet at the juncture of Aalst I will be standing still. All men in the cars. Meanwhile the wife is still sleeping as do the children. Mother leaves at 07.00 for her work, the children know where to find breakfast. At 08.30 one of the grandparents passes by to bring the children to school. It will be late in the evening before all are back home, dad will arrive when the children are already in bed. Dialogue among generations is hardly possible in this competive society. 

1. A picture of reality

° As a result of institutional and fysical lines which as a wigg go through society, generations withdrew into separate groups which rarely meet. In a fast-developing society they actually would need each other more and more. At the same time the living speed of these different groups can be so different. Young people go too fast for the elderly, changes come about too quickly for them. As a matter of fact these differences should exactly lead to intergenerational interaction efforts of which both can learn and enrich one another. It is a sign of education to be capable of integrating new elements in one’s own cultural baggage. Different experiences make people look differently upon present events. Different parameters are used.  Responsibilities are often based upon other criteria of rights and duties. Only constant dialogue and interaction would bridge these gabs, but just this is often missing.  

Young people are stressed because they want to appear clever and modern. Requirements to perform are high. Elderly people are stressed as they want to be trendy, they desire to look young in a rapidly changing society. Individualism teaches that everyone, young and old, may decide freely on whatever issue in life. Grandparents have a growing impact on their grandchildren due to the heavy workschedule of their own children. The attitude of teenagers towards their grandparents is often more open than towards their own parents. One can notice a growing sensibility about the need to an intergenerational concern through an awareness that all need each other. Youth organizations as well as educational institutes make great effort to promote intergenerational contacts. Visits to homes for the elderly, scoutgroups traveling with sick pilgrims to Lourdes, campaigns in favor of social- or health programs are common a good school for broadening their mind.

Parents do no longer interfere (or are not welcome to) in the choices their children make about their studies or in the choice of their friends and relationships. To many effects they have grown apart already from the moment children of one family go to ‘different’ schools. Parents are more absent from the life of their children. Weekends are busy doing house work in staid of being able to share with the children (except from rushing them to one or the other youth activity). Young people have only each other as councillors as a serene dialogue with their parents is not easy. They have become as the “blind leading the blind, but as the one blind leads the other, they will both fall into the ditch” (Lc. 6,39). We could also mention the different approach to religion. Grandparents look on with pain to see that their children do not introduce their own children to the religious experience they have tried to impart them with. 

2. Towards a new attitude

God puts the human person at the center

In an interview of some young people with Pope Francis he said: “In this world people are pushed to the side? Children are put aside, families do not want children any more. Elderly people die due to a hidden euthanasia, because no one cares for them any more. All young people are driven away, even though young people are the seeds which will bear fruit” (Where is your treasure? 5 young people interview Pope Francis). Pope Francis confronts us with the question that the human person as such has been removed from the center of interests and has been pushed to the perifery. Power and money have taken the place. 

The experience of the young people interviewing Pope Francis points at something deeper. Their purpose was to bring the Pope on television in Belgium. Since they were not happy about what ‘adults’ had brought on television about the World  Youth Day in Madrid, they decided to do it themselves from Rio. In this way they wanted to enter into the world of the media and to reach all generations with the experience they live, with the values they consider important. In this way they became witnesses of the good news to all.

In order to put the human person at the center the gift of wisdom, of discernment is needed. When Pope Francis comments on wisdom as a gift of the Spirit he puts it this way: “Wisdom is precisely this: the grace to look at everything with the eyes of God. It is very simple: the world, situations, facts, problems, just everything, look at it with the eyes of God. That is wisdom. Sometimes we look at things as we would like them to be, according to our state of mind, with love or hatred, jalousy… No, that is not the eye of God. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit does within us in order to be able to see everything with the eyes of God” (Catechesis on Wednesday 09-04-2014). 

Communication of love and values

Even though people of different age are born under different social conditions, at this time and age they are confronted with the same surrounding information and concerns. It is evident that grand-parents who lived the experience of past wars will feel differently about the warscenes on television today. The communication of their experience and viewpoint will introduce young people to a broader perspective. Value education belongs to the greater responsibility of elders to their children. These value systems we draw from tradition, from communication among different generations, from dialogue and reflection on experiences. As I said earlier, peers are no good councillors. Valuesystems are often also built on religious traditions and practices. In particular the person of Jesus Christ offers through his own way of life and his teaching valuable attitudes through which particularily care for the other person, more even for the person most in need, are conveyed. Fundamental humanness we learn from experience, from people who have gone before us. Often I think of the Rabbi who gives wisdom to the questioning people, or the prophets of old, or het first christians in his relationship to the people. 

Responsibility and education

How can we not remember the dialogue between Jesus and the pharisees about the first commandment. The question about ‘who is my neighbor?’ leads Jesus to tell the story of the good Samaritan. Caring for the other, of what tribe or believe he or she might be, is an essential human concern. Each person is responsible for his or her own life, but not only. The history of education shows this very clearly. A teacher is always much more than a communicator of examination matters. He or she is a communicator of humanness, first and foremost through the own example. Education could be defined as the way in which a young person takes up his or her own responsibility, educating oneself by means of the tools offered by educators, in such a way to be able to enter into society freely and responsibly with the desire to transform it. The concern of a teacher is not primarily one of teaching a subject, but to meet the youngsters in order to make them grow. As a comparison with a cup or a mob, the educator creates a bottom to the cup in which science, wisdom, experience and friendschip can be poured. Once that is done, elements for growth can be added.

Develop curiosity 

The media are a strong means for developing curiosity as well as a tool to work on solidarity. The elderly read the paper, the young sit hours in front of the Internet and communicate through facebook and other new media. How can they meet each other? Quick information serves the young, commenting collums interest the elderly. Parents instead only read the headlines and look at the news at TV. There is one important point: all use the media, in one or the other way. Curiosity is in this a good guide. Media are a strong means to bring people together. Young people can bring their elders up to date about the burning questions on the IPad while the elderly can discuss with them what they read in the paper. 

Travelling becomes a means of contact between generations. Tourism has opened the way to a universal experience. Since elderly people as well as the young have found the way to other cultures and find in the media all usefull information about it, this becomes a concrete meeting place. Since these experiences are new for both of them, sharing becomes a learning process for both. 


Solidarity makes us consider the concrete effect of it. Is it just solidarity we need, or do we need to  go one step further? Sharing the same time and situation among people of different age and social settings, we need to promote brotherhood and sisterhood as the real way to solidarity. What we most of all share is our humanness. Solidarity can easily become an expression of paternalism while it has to care for the whole person, and not only for one or the other aspect of it. There is a real danger to consider solidarity only in material or financial terms. May be this is also a result of the fact that we do not put the human person at the center and allow money and power to take the lead. Over all barriers of age and belongings, we have to try to incorporate each person in our care and concern. Solidarity is based on the consciousness that all of us have the same Father in heaven and that we are together responsible for creation and for our neighbors.


The centurion in Luke 7, 1-10 was present in the life of his slave. Paul had taken Onésimus in his own house. The widow of Sareptha had taken the prophet in her house. They were present with each other. Parents are intensely present in the life of their children. A couple will be totally responsible for its newborn child, but with time it will have to grow from total dependence over a watchful care to avoid wrong choices or harmful situations towards a love-baring independence. At all stages in life parents and educators need to be present. A divorsed son or daughter needs special presence and welcome in the home of his or her parents. Even though the children take over the responsibility of the parents when they choose their way in life, never will the responsibility of the parents be totally eliminated. 

Presence is a strong principle in education. First and foremost to be there when young people make choices, to avoid the wrong choices and promote the better ones, but more even to accompany them giving the certainty that they never will be alone and always can count on others. That is how parenst ‘bless’ their children all through life.

Mc. 10, 16

A golden rule in the relationship between adults and children we can find in this one small phrase of the gospel of St Marc. When mothers wanted to reach Jesus with their children and the disciples wanted to protect the master, Jesus welcomed them and did only three things: he embraced them as a sign of love; he put his hands on their head as a sign of approval and protection; and he blessed them putting them on their way to life under his blessing. This is a very concise description of how an educational relationship between adults and children should be.

Children evangelizers of their own parents and family

In a final note I want to recall the missionary philosophy of Saint John Bosco. When his missionaries settled in South America he told them not to fix their institutes in the forest as there might be canibals living there. Therefore: “establish you schools and missions at the border of the forest, call the boys from the forest to your boarding houses. Give them education and catechesis and baptize them. When they will go home during holidays, they themselves will catechise their parents and relatives and baptize them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Young people can become educators to the faith and to values of their elderly people. As a matter of fact this works still today in areas where missionary work is forbidden, where christians are expelled. Examples of this we know in Arunachal Pradesh in India, but also in Irak today.