Fr Anthony Paganoni CS: Parents know kids are safe in Church hands

13 May 2009

By The Record

Summer holidays with ‘Cre-Grest’. Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues his series on a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.
Aside from reaching out to committed or totally uncommitted groups of young people, one of the most popular activities of the Oratorio is the Cre-Grest. (Its etymology remains obscure, even after 30 years of existence.)
To many school-age children, this offers an alternative way of spending the summer school holidays in Italy. In the Lombardy region alone it reaches something like 550,000 primary and secondary school children. It is run by 80,000 adults, ably supported by an equal number of young volunteers, without counting priests and religious. It provides clear evidence of the Church’s concern for the younger generation, particularly during those years when too much free time can prove detrimental to their development. The Cre-Grest offers them an opportunity to channel their free time into group activities, with the dignity of the person as a central focus. Support is provided to working families, who can spend the summer months with less apprehension, because they know that their children are safe and sound at the Oratorio.
The research survey covers only the young people who act as supervisors and devote the better part of summer to that role, spending a lot of time with the youngsters who enrol in such activity. The sample comprises 2336 young people, with a surprising proportion of 57 per cent male and 43 per cent female. Most the activities run are educational, a preferred field by girls.
The young people take on a role of responsibility on their own. The driving motivation for their choice is threefold: the desire to relate to other young people; the desire to be of service to others and in the process learn something new; and finally a lack of meaningful alternatives. As one of the interviewees remarks: …We are in the Oratorio, Gospel teachings are in the background and our actions are influenced by the Gospel, without too much fuss! No one goes to the Grest with the intention to pray…
Their well-programed responsibilities run across the whole spectrum of the Cre-Grest: conflict resolution between different groups of children, reprimanding children who are behaving badly, organising and running the planned activities for the whole day, spending some time with friends, leading moments of spirituality etc… They score very favourably, both in personal satisfaction and self-assessment of their performance. Most feel that their semi-adult role is actually a confidence booster for their future. It is this bonus that inclines them to see the training courses, attended by the vast majority of them, as useful tools for ‘getting on’. Marked resistance, however, is felt by the young leaders, when the programs of the conferences are repeated year after year.
Some questions about the Church were addressed to these young supervisors, themselves potential future leaders in the Church.
They believe in Gospel values and rate the concern of their parish communities for young people, themselves included, as highly positive.
A good level of appreciation is also registered in relation to their priests, attention to the needy, and the social teachings of the Church.
At the lowest end of the scale, the Church’s position on bio-ethical issues and sexual morality finds less than 50 per cent in agreement.
To be continued…