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An open letter to teenagers

Dear confirmed young people, the hope of the future:

You have heard for almost a year now, since the suicide bombings last September 11, that overnight our world has changed and we are in a war that is going to be long and costly, with the enemy calling the shots and time not on our side.

At first thought it seemed as though America should have the upper hand. We are the wealthiest nation on earth and the most powerful one militarily. Our enemies come from backward countries, rich with oil, the wealth from which does not filter down to the common people. The result is that abroad there is a great hatred for America. It arises in part from jealousy over our power and status and in part from what they perceive as American arrogance. We have the reputation overseas of “ugly Americans.” American businessmen, politicians and tourists may not intend to convey superior attitudes to Middle Easterners and the Third World in general, but the fact is that we do.

So we live in the terrible uncertainty of when, where and how they will strike next. This war is not like the full-time grind that occupied our country in Vietnam, Korea and World War II before you were born. The lulls and gaps in the fight leave us and our leaders anxious and uncertain. The terrorists hate us, are so desperate that they will commit suicide to hurt us, and we know they possess chemical and biological weapons to use against us.

This is not, then, a favorable time for young people like yourselves growing into full adulthood. You will not be having the freedom of movement and action previous young generations had. What counsel can I give you, what encouragement can I offer, in the situation in which we all find ourselves?

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul, for almost a quarter of a century has repeatedly urged the Gospel admonition upon us, “Do not be afraid!” (Matt. 14:27, Mark 6:50, John 6:20). Jesus Christ is Lord, and we belong to him. Cling to him and he will see us through our earthly difficulties.

President John F. Kennedy inspired a whole Cold War generation with these words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” You are American citizens, soon to be American voters. Decide now to be active citizens, informed on the issues and voting accordingly. Remember that the U.S.A. gives a smaller proportion of its wealth to the poor nations than any other major world power. Vote to change this.

Maybe you can help to dispel the “ugly American” impression foreigners have of us. If your future brings you into contact with foreign nations, be a “good-will ambassador.” Learn a little bit of their languages, show an interest in their cultures, make no odious comparisons with ours.

You already have an “in” with people your own age, even in the countries where the terrorists originate: because of television and American movies, teens almost everywhere admire and imitate your casual clothing and your music. I have no idea how you might exploit this for world peace, but maybe you can think of some way.

Remember, finally, that Catholic Relief Services gets high praise abroad for the speedy help sent from America in food, clothing and medicine in times of need and regardless of race, color or religion.

Thanks for reading this, and the Lord be with you all!