“Since the foundation of the FOI (Italian Oratori Forum) seven years ago”, reports Fr Maximilian Sabbadini, “our main task has been to reflect communally about the many forms of youth ministry that now exist within diocesan parishes and among religious congregations.
“They display a great diversity of methods and approaches.” But no matter how diverse the experiences have been or still are, there is common thread running through them all.
“There is always a parish community or several of them joining forces to share physical spaces and personnel (mostly volunteers) for their youth work.
“Not just another location for kids to hang out in, even if off the streets, but Church-run facilities that adapt their own services to the kids’ needs and mentality”.
This is not always easy. The shortage of priests has meant that more and more duties in and around the Oratorio have been delegated to lay people. The priest can operate in the background, as a spiritual resource person, while the laity will do the rest.
The diocese of Milan, with its 1500 Oratori, has come up with the Aquila and Priscilla Co-operative, named after the faithful companions of St Paul, run entirely by lay people. Some of them receive a minimal salary in order to free them from other worries.
The presence and support of the priest remains crucial, but it is not as much in evidence as in the past.
Everything has to be organised meticulously: even the barman must do his thing according to the objectives of the Oratorio.
The Oratorio is always a mix of educational activities and recreation, true to the original vision of St Philip Neri.
Nowadays, kids come from a wide variety of family setups, and sooner or later the leaders come face-to-face with the struggles many face at home.
Sometimes because of their parents unusual working hours, homes are more like ghost-places than congenial environments.
One of the recent challenges in keeping in touch with all sorts of human situations is the increasing number of children coming through the doors of the Oratorio whose parents hail from countries all around and beyond the Mediterranean basin.
In St John’s Oratorio, in the city of Brescia, 24 nationalities are represented by the youngsters. And the young people of all ages are not just recipients of services.
They themselves are invited to become leaders and take on responsibilities usually handled by adults. Such as when the Oratorio open its doors during the summer months to the great influx of children on school holidays.
Finally, Oratories have turned out to be the seedbed for a sizeable number of young people who, after going through the experience of the parish-based youth ministry, have gone on to positions of excellence in the world of sport – Roberto Donadoni who after a successful career in the famous Milano soccer club, was promoted to be coach of the national soccer team. Or in music – Claudio Baglioni, a well-known singer who is backing the construction of an Oratorio near the city of Bari, or again the successful comedian, Flavio Oreglio. Just to name a few.