Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues his series on a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.
Informality: the magic bullet.
Informality, the threshold syndrome, marginality, life on the street, a sense of precariousness…. yes, all this and more. But also risk-taking, waiting for a better offer, solidarity with the peer group, supporting each other…yes, all this and much more, if the perspectives of the adult world are to be set aside in favour of the aspirations of youth. Informality can be the key to opening young people up to a fuller world, but gradually and without in any way restricting their new appetites, their thirst for adventure.
Well seasoned youth leaders will bring a modicum of formality into their daily contacts with adolescents negotiating their threshold syndrome, while never forgetting that informality is really the magic bullet. New horizons will open out before the young person, and the new insights will prove invaluable for the resource person, well connected with the Oratorio.
It is clear that the commitment to informality needs the whole-hearted support of the whole parish community. Complaints by the local establishment and well entrenched parishioners can seem endless: “Why should parish properties be vandalised by people who don’t even know what the inside of the church looks like? Why throw some of our best people into a ministry where results are so chancy?”
These and similar objections – with their ring of truth – completely misunderstand the world their young people live in, the future shapers of any Catholic community. The Parish Pastoral Council, the directors of the Oratorio and other parish groupings are continually challenged to step out of their comfort zone.
The never-outmoded Gospel invitation is to share the Good News with all people, particularly the ones on our doorstep. This community effort will avoid, by all means, setting up a distinction between those who believe and those who don’t.
At the centre of the community’s concerns, its liturgical celebrations and all its activities, no matter whether carried out on parish property or out in the streets or the shopping plaza or a bar, there will always be the same person: Christ.
The parish community as a whole will address its energies to people, regardless of their status in life, without preconceived prejudice and with a large dose of the spirit of evangelisation, with its ever-present elements of reckless grace and unfolding understanding.
Whenever and wherever this occurs, the world of adult and practising Catholics receives a shot in the arm. Life is like an open gospel. The Christian announcement does not depend on any highly structured and overly organised institution (the Church sometimes gives that impression, particularly to young people!). It needs a core group of people who, like the apostles, set their minds and hearts on helping other people to see things previously unseen and hear messages never heard.
To be continued…