Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues this week with the fourth of a series of articles on a fascinating story, a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.
A team of researchers from the Catholic University of Milan and the neighbouring city of Brescia carried out a major three-year study that identified and investigated a variety of initiatives grouped under the umbrella of the Oratorio. The four-volume report attests to the expertise of a wide range of researchers and has a very interesting story to tell, challenging a range of stereotypes about a fairly widespread cultural phenomenon in the region of Lombardy. This heavily populated area, aside from being the main engine of the Italian economy for decades and recording a very high rate of road fatalities among young people leaving discos and nightclubs during the early hours of Sunday, was selected on the grounds that it is the area most closely associated with this particular youth ministry – with some three thousand Oratori.
The study did not major on the character of the Oratorio as such, but on its operations during the Lenten, summer or Advent seasons. These are the occasions when the Oratorio tries to reach out to young people who are either right outside or merely nominally connected with the local Church. This pro-active outreach by a selected number of youth leaders was targeting a large group of both primary and secondary school students at a time when they were free from classes.
Endorsed by the Italian Bishops’ Conference, the research plan enjoyed the full support of the grassroots leadership in youth ministry from several dioceses.
Because the target group was very largely transient, the common aim was to assess the outcomes of the youth ministry on the young people who encountered it for just a brief period. The importance of such an exercise has wide pastoral implications, since it identifies strategies and programs seeking to connect today’s youth with the Church.
But it was also surveying attitudes of the 20 per cent or so of young people firmly involved in the life of the Church through the Oratorio activities. Some of the issues examined in regard to this group were their level of satisfaction as well their inner motivation for undertaking what may turn out to be a rather time-consuming and demanding project.
The study also unearthed a deal of information about the local parish community: its attitudes, its view of youth activities, the overt support by the parish leadership – clergy and laity alike.
Let us look first at a particular sample: a map of 117 groupings which come together for a short term activity. In these, we find a young priest at the helm, working in a spirit of close collaboration with mostly lay people. Generally the event would last about a week, give or take a few days. The participants would number from between 10 to 25, half of them adolescents and half young adults between the ages of 20 and 30. For some of the participants it was their first experience of a Church-sponsored initiative.
The findings have been widely discussed among the research team, and are now in the process of being validated by sampled groups of young people and local leaders.
To be continued…