Fr Anthony Paganoni CS: Filling the vacuum inside youth

25 Mar 2009

By The Record

Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues his series on a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.

Fr Anthony Paganoni CS

Informality captures the spirit, the inmost soul of the Oratorio, dating back to the very beginnings in the time of St Philip Neri. This essential quality is not the result of some deliberate strategy but rather the fruit of cumulative experience garnered over several centuries. Time and again, the whole research team dwell on this particular dimension, as being best adapted to the needs of many of the young people experiencing the threshold syndrome, with its consequent feelings of restlessness and marginalisation.
In adult terms, threshold speaks of ambivalence, of being neither inside nor yet outside, but in that intermediate space, both physical and otherwise, that lies in front of a home, a school, a factory – a parish – where rules and ethical codes are clearly defined.
But not yet embraced by the people standing on the threshold, nursing conflicting feelings of distrust and fear, antagonism and at times attraction to the new world beckoning from the inside.
This is the situation of the young people so often lingering just beyond the bounds of either parish or oratorio, expressing their ambivalence by their looks and their studied casualness. 
They recall the steel balls suspended between and kept in place by two magnetic fields. Could it be that these young people resemble this ‘suspended neutrality’, caught between two contrasting and mutually attractive yet reciprocally negating forces?
In such a situation freedom of choice – to go forward or backward – is practically non-existent. The ambiguity causes anxiety and paralysis, and hence marginalisation.
But this is not necessarily exhibiting deviant behaviour, as many closed-minded observers might be tempted to suggest.
Rather it is as if they are experiencing a vacuum inside them, trapped within static confines, with  little scope for re-positioning themselves or moving forward.
Such an analysis underlies many attempts by the youth leaders within the Oratorio to make and – if successful – keep in contact with those on the threshold.
This is a stage in their development that affects a high proportion of young people nowadays. Their marginalisation, particularly if brought about by circumstances beyond their control, such as race or ethnicity, social status, interruption to schooling, can damage the individual’s sense of worth and self-respect to the point of triggering anti-social behaviour and violence.
In such cases, the multiplicity of sub-cultures diverging from mainstream social norms can be the source of many of the problems continuously reported in the media.
Of course, marginalisation is not a process affecting only young people.
We can meet mature-age people here in Australia who in some cases have chosen to depend fully on the security net for their support.