“Dear young people, please form a human chain around the ones you see at risk of being trafficked or at risk of drug use. Please, surround them like birds protect their young when kidnappers come to their nest!” said Metropolitan Ioan of Banat on Saturday, at the International Meeting of Orthodox Youth (ITO) 2023 Conferences, which he moderated.
“I ask you to do this for your brothers and sisters, out of Christian love, because Christ would have us do so. If He were at this microphone today, I am sure Christ would tell you: ‘Save and defend your peers!’”
The last part of the ITO 2023 Conferences was dedicated to the fight against risk behaviours among young people, which also grow into real social problems due to the complexity of the phenomena they represent: human trafficking and drug use.
Man – the crown of creation
The introduction was made by Father Professor Vasile Mihoc, who spoke briefly about Orthodox Christian anthropology, i.e. the Church’s vision of man.
“The Holy Fathers summed it up thus: God became man, that he might deify man. It is an anthropological revolution. You cannot understand man without taking this revolution into account. If man, Adam, was made with a living soul, the last Adam, Christ, became life-giving spirit,” said the priest.
“Without this life-giving spirit, we will never properly answer the question, ‘What is man?’”
Human trafficking – a contemporary scourge
Next, Chief Commissioner Laurențiu Dincă from the National Agency Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ANITP), Timișoara Regional Centre, made the presentation entitled “Trafficking in human beings: a changing phenomenon in a changing society”.
“Traffickers have also changed their recruitment and exploitation methods in line with legislative changes, trying to make it as difficult as possible to prosecute and convict them. Their tactics have evolved over time, and today this evolution is largely supported by technology,” he explained.
“Their targets are most often children and young women, and the techniques used are creative and ruthless. They are designed to trick, coerce and gain the trust of a potential victim. The main means used by traffickers to lure their victims is psychological manipulation, based on knowledge of their weaknesses.”
“Victims under the manipulation of exploiters will not try to escape, will not admit what has happened to them and will not want to testify,” added the Chief Commissioner.
He went on to talk about his agency’s latest awareness campaign. It focuses on empowering potential consumers of paid sex services – by using these services, they are enabling trafficking, because most women in this social category are trafficked.
The young participants then watched an information film about the phenomenon of human trafficking, narrated by popular Romanian vlogger Zaiafet.
The host of the documentary explains why many traffickers escape justice, how girls from disorganised families are trafficked using the Loverboy method (lured by people pretending to love them), how you can recognise a trafficking victim (she talks incoherently, has limited access to her phone, seems to be under constant surveillance, doesn’t know exactly where she is and shows signs of fear) and much more.
Youth organizations can get involved in drug education campaigns
The presentation was followed by a wide-ranging discussion on the phenomenon of drug use. Dr Bogdan Gheorghe from the National Anti- Drug Agency – Ministry of Internal Affairs said that the agency he represents seeks to train young people who, in turn, educate young people of the same age to prevent drug use.
For those who are already consumers, the support network is very important in recovery. Therefore, “the Church is an extraordinarily important factor in motivating drug users to seek support, but at the same time in developing social services for those who have fallen prey to these types of substances,” said Dr. Bogdan Gheorghe.
“Our youth organizations can become viable partners in the fight against the two scourges of human trafficking and drug abuse. You now have our openness to collaborate,” said Metropolitan Ioan of Banat in response.
Psychologist Alina Neagoe, from the National Anti-Drug Agency (ANA) – Ministry of Internal Affairs, explained the psychological and neurological “terrain” that favours drug use and addiction among adolescents.
“In the last ten years, there has been an increase in mental problems among the general population, but among adolescents in particular,” she said.
The onset of major health problems is somewhere around the age of 14. Perhaps not just coincidentally, the onset of drug use sometimes happens at the age of 13, the psychologist added.
Also, at the age of adolescence, the young person puts emphasis on excitement and experimentation, on discovering new things and new surroundings, but the part of the brain that involves rational thinking and understanding long-term consequences is not developed yet.
Church and Hospital, a good team in the fight against drugs
Radu Țincu, PhD, primary doctor of Intensive Care – Toxicology, shared his clinical experience and some personal conclusions on drug use in young age.
“The first response of young people – and I’ve seen thousands of them on drugs in hospital – was: ‘We are free and we do what we want!’ he recounted. “But the question is: How can you be free when you are enslaved by a psychoactive substance? How can you be free when you wake up at two in the morning in withdrawal and go out to the street corner to buy your meth pill?”
“Freedom has nothing to do with taking drugs. On the contrary, when you become addicted to drugs, you have lost your freedom.”
„I’ve also wondered if drug addiction is just a problem of the body, because we often focus on treating the symptoms of these people. And, by talking to young people and drug addicts, I have come to the conclusion that it is rather a problem of the soul,” said Dr Radu Țincu.
“If we go back to the question ‘How did we get here?’, we got here because we lost certain fundamental values. One of them is family. Communication between parents and their children a problem identified by most of the patients I spoke to,” said Dr Radu Tincu.
“I also think we have forgotten Christian teaching,” he said. “I have patients who don’t believe in God, but I’ve told them that the Church is a source of morality, beyond all its dogmatics. No parent would refuse the 10 Commandments.”
“As we can see, drug use goes beyond the medical area, becoming a social issue. If we don’t take action, I wonder how Romanian society will look like in 20 years’ time, when these young people reach adulthood with mental disorders induced by these substances”, Dr Radu Țincu warned.
“That’s why, at this point, I think it’s extremely important to accept the reality, to be able to quantify this phenomenon and to be able to treat these young people.”
“In the absence of a medium and long-term policy of the Romanian state, we will have a sick society, a society with which we will not be able to build the future of Romania.”
„The Church and the Hospital, in the fight against drugs, can make the essential synergy that we need, because one treats the body and the other the soul. And if the soul of these children is affected, the presence of the Church is needed,” said the doctor.
“The Church must be part of preventive public education about drugs, because drugs are rather a matter of the soul.”
The heavy theme of Saturday’s ITO 2023 Conferences was counterbalanced by the musical moments between them.
The talks were prefaced by a quartet made up of members of the Banatul Philharmonic, who played compositions by Antonio Vivaldi and George Enescu, enjoying much appreciation from the audience.
During the event, the ASCOR Timișoara Choir and folk rhapsode Ion Crețeanu sang.
The last part of the ITO 2023 Conferences ended with Metropolitan Ioan’s exhortation: “Let us travel forward in life on the wings of hope!” and with the hymn “Save Thy people, O Lord…”
3,500 young people aged between 16 and 35 took part in the 2023 International Meeting of Orthodox Youth (ITO), organized in Timișoara, Romania, between August 31 and September 3, 2023.
They came from all the dioceses of the Romanian Patriarchate (including the Romanian communities around the country and those in the diaspora), but also from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Orthodox Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia and the Archdiocese of Ohrid and North Macedonia.
Young people were accompanied during the event by group leaders, who were priests from their dioceses.
The theme of this year’s ITO meeting was made of the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ to His disciples: “You are my friends”. Previous editions have been held annually since 2014. The Timișoara meeting came after a four-year break due to the pandemic. The next edition will be held in Bucharest.
Photo credit: Basilica.ro / Mircea Florescu