Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues his series on a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.
Very often educators, teachers, priests and parents raise the question of what is the most suitable method, structure or approach for reaching younger generations. In the research study I have been writing about these last few weeks, the term most often mentioned as achieving that goal is ‘informality.’
Referring to a place, informality means that people feel free to come and go as they please, and, during their stay do not feel bound by too many rules.
Referring to a group, it means that little regard, if any, is to be had to a recognised leader or an institution, with or without an explicit program.
The Oratorio, as a medium set up to reach young generations, is constantly facing the issue of informality. A building among other buildings, particularly in city precincts, the Oratorio is a place which, unlike schools and universities, is only partially structured, yet not so totally unstructured as a street or a park.
The Oratorio is usually accommodating, blending both physical spaces for structured activities such as instruction classes, liturgical moments or games with a referee, with amenities such as the bar, recreation rooms, pool rooms etc. where youth feel at ease.
In addition, the Oratorio opens up contact and affiliation with well-organised groups, such as the Scouts, Catholic Action or sports clubs, as well as by being open to kids coming in off the street who decide to spend some spare time using the recreational facilities.
This diversity of groups and contacts is a great resource for the Oratorio and its leaders.
Its clientele may start with the casual visitor with no sense of belonging to it and may go all the way to the young people and leaders who spend the best part of their spare time there.
The versatility of the Oratorio is particularly welcome, capturing as it does a wide variety of youth, connected or unconnected with the Church.
It is important, the study declares, that the pastoral leadership be aware of this missionary dimension of a youth-oriented organisation. That this requires a diversification of programs and experiences is evident.
All the demands of informality which young people will make on the Oratorio will call not only for reflection about the constant need for adaptation and change, but also a willingness to try out pastoral strategies, in keeping with the ever-evolving needs.
The Oratorio, with its extensive branches, emerges as a veritable observatory of the trends and needs of youth as they develop over time, in different contexts: urban, semi-urban and rural.
The researchers’ analysis has brought to light insights and conclusions that have been clearly identified in countless, though unco-ordinated, socio-religious contexts.
To be continued…