According to UNICEF, 20% of the population in Latin America are between 15 and 24 years old, the highest proportion in the region’s history.
Concern for youth is not new for the Latin American bishops. Their ground-breaking Medellin conference in 1967 stressed the importance of welcoming the youth. In the 1979 Puebla conference, the bishops called for a preferential option for the young as well as for the poor.
Therefore the bishops are concerned about he effects of a consumer culture on youth, as they note in paragraph 51:
The younger generations are those most affected by this consumer culture in their deep personal aspirations. They grow up under the thrust of a pragmatic and narcissistic individualism, which arouses in them special imaginary worlds of freedom and equality. (Emphasis mine.)
The role of the family and the community has been very important in Latin American cultures. For the bishops a consumer culture often threatens not only the stability of the family but also the well-being of the person since consumerism can seriously undermine the family.
The bishops are particularly concerned about the concentration on the immediate, or, as the document reads, “the present.”
They affirm the present because the past ceased being relevant in the face of so much social political, and economic exclusion. For them, the future is uncertain.
This leads, according to the bishops, to an emphasis on life as something that is to be watched – a spectacle – and to an over-concern about “the body,” with an “addiction to sensations.”
They [ the younger generations] likewise participate in the logic of life as spectacle, and regard the body as focal point of their present reality. They have a new addiction to sensations, and most of them grow up without regard for values and religious occasions. New actors are emerging in within this situation of cultural change, with new lifestyles, ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving, and with new ways of relating. They are authors and agents of the new culture. (Emphasis mine.)
How then can the youth conserve their religious values in the face of these “authors and agents of the new culture”?
The bishops will return to the problems and prospects of youth throughout the Aparecida document.