Pope dedicates December to praying for end to child soldiers

African child feet Photo credit Goran Bogicevic via Shutterstock CNA Photo | Goran Bogicevic via Shutterstock.

In his latest prayer video, which highlights his prayer intention for the month of December, Pope Francis focused on putting an end to the phenomenon of child-soldiers, which he called a "form of slavery."

The video, published Dec. 1, shows a soldier suiting up for battle in the dark, boots, gun and ammo included. When the soldier's face is shown, it's a young boy with the lower half of his face covered by a bandana.

As the child pulls the bandana down revealing his entire face, Francis' voice is heard in his native Spanish, saying: "in this world, which has developed the most sophisticated technologies, weapons are sold that end up in the hands of child-soldiers."

The scene then changes to show children running and playing in the sun, while the Pope says "we must do everything possible so that the dignity of children may be respected, and end this form of slavery."

"Whoever you are, if you are moved as I am, I ask you to join me in this prayer intention: that the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over," he says, as the faces of smiling children flash across the screen.

Recruitment of child-soldiers is a problem largely isolated to Africa, as well as some countries in the Middle East and Asia. South Sudan is among the worst in the world when it comes to the phenomenon, with an estimated 16,000 child-soldiers fighting since the country's conflict intensified in December 2013.

Archbishop Paulino Luduku Loro of Jubo, South Sudan was in Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis in October, and told CNA after the encounter that a primary concern for child-soldiers is what violence does to a young person's psyche, particularly as they transition into adulthood.

Since many soldiers recruited by the government don't want to fight, the government has resorted to the use of more militia-type fighters, or forces children to fight for them, he said.

However, it's also children and young boys who "simply go by themselves" to fight against the government, he said, and insisted that the only solution to end the phenomenon "is to stop fighting and talk peace. This is what we are working on together."

Archbishop Loro traveled to Rome alongside Rev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop of the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, to meet with the Pope to discuss the desperate situation of the country, to highlight their joint collaboration, and to invite him to visit.

The meeting was arranged by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, currently President of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace and president-elect of the new mega-dicastery dedicated to Integral Human Development, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope's prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the Roman Pontiff's monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope's intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, "universal" intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary - or evangelization - intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

While there are two intentions, the prayer videos are centered on the first, universal intention.

The Pope's evangelization intention for December is for Europe, specifically, "that the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life."

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Having emerged as somewhat of a social justice champion, Francis has focused his intentions so far on themes he speaks about frequently and which have formed a sort of "road-map" for his pontificate, such as interreligious dialogue, care for creation, families in hardship, the elderly and marginalized, refugees and respect for women.

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