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Moral Theology and Youth

Alexandre A. Martins, MI

Every year, since 1977, the Brazilian Society of Moral Theology has promoted a Conference to reflect and dialogue about the Brazilian society and its challenges to Moral Theology. These Conferences began as a meeting among Catholic professors of Moral Theology; then they moved forward and became an important moment to reflect about moral theology and its challenges in ecumenical and interdisciplinary perspectives. In its 37th edition, the Conference of Moral Theology discussed the theme Moral Theology and Youth in São Paulo from Sept. 2nd to 5th, 2013.

Shortly, I will highlight how important this theme is in the Brazilian context and present the topics that were presented under youth as a challenge to Moral Theology.

The World Youth Day  – that took place in Rio de Janeiro in July where Pope Francis spoke to young people from all the world – motivated the Brazilian Society of Moral Theology to choose youth as its annual subject. This happened in an appropriate moment in the Catholic Church in Brazil because young people have left the Church, and she has had difficulty speaking a language that touches them. Brazil, as the whole Latin America, is living in a time of great transformations. The Document of Aparecida affirms that Latin America does not live in an “era of shift”, but in a “shift of era”. Young people are those who are most affected by this shift of era and, in some ways, they are also responsible for this shift. The impact on morality, especially on the Catholic teaching, is evident as well as its consequences in the Christian Community.

Many things have changed in Brazilian society so fast. This is a world phenomenon. The Brazilian Conference of Moral Theology analyzed this transformation and how it affects the life of the young. Next, the Conference, through moral theologians, sociologists, psychologists and others, had tried to understand what is the current configuration of young people in Brazil and what are the challenges that this configuration presents to Moral Theology and the Church.

The Conference had thematic pivots that guided its sections, plenaries and debates. These pivots were: the diversity of cultures among the young; the sexual diversity; the issues of addiction and violence; the social webs on the internet; the new values among the young; and new generations of the young. All of these pivots were analyzed from a theological perspective and grounded in a social comprehension of the new face of young people in Brazil.  Therefore, the Conference showed that the Church must change her discourse and language from a perspective of defense of a kind of morality to a dialogical perspective that hears the voices of the young and is open to understand this shift of era. A book was published as the result of this conference: Theological Ethics and Youth (available only in Portuguese, Ética Teológica e Juventudes. São Paulo: Centro Universitário São Camilo Press; Aparecida: Santuario Press, 2013 edited by Leo Pessini and Ronaldo Zacharias).

In conclusion, I would like to say the same thing that I said at the Conference when I presented the issue of drug addiction among young people in Brazil and its challenge to Moral Theology. I affirm that mercy is an essential principle of Christian life that we sometimes forget in Moral Theology. So I would like to end this short essay affirming: that mercy (in Portuguese, misericórdia, that is, something comes from the cordia – heart) must lead us to encounter those who are marginalized because of their situation and, before any other action and moral discourse, listening and dialogue with these people with a mercy heart.


Alexandre Martins is a member of the Religious of the Order of Saint Camillus (Camillians) and a  PhD student in Theological Ethics/Bioethics at Marquette University. He has published a fews books and articles. His last publications were “Poverty and Grace: Experience of God within Suffering in Simone Weill;” “Bioethics, Health, and Vulnerability” and “Theology and Health.”