Fr Anthony Paganoni: Give youth responsibility in the Church and they thrive

20 May 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.

Apart from the vast benefit derived by the participants (a clientele of over half a million, for a period spanning several weeks), the Cre-Grest has tremendous potential for the social development of its young leaders. For all of them, their supervisory role becomes a ‘test’ of responsible engagement at an age when opportunities for a leading role in any public sphere are scarcely abundant.
This finding of the research study clearly gives the lie to common stereotypes about adolescents and young people being incapable of assuming or exercising responsibility. The adult world often tags them as lost and disoriented. But the survey reveals something entirely different. In describing her own experience, one of the young supervisors remarks, “During the summer I experience feelings of energy, during the school year only feelings of anxiety”.
The blend of a friendly environment, the presence of friends involved in the same endeavour, the carefree and informal attitude with which activities are organised, the benevolent presence of educators and priests and religious, the high level of satisfaction found in caring for younger children – these are some of the highly positive factors cited in the whole experience of Cre-Grest. In a word, the request from the core leadership at the Oratorio to “help out with younger children” goes down well with the young people looking for a degree of autonomy and engagement.  For many of them, it is a lesson that brings greater self-knowledge: about their potential as well their weaknesses.
Time and time again the authors of the study pose the question whether the young people may be estranged from Christ and His Gospel, or whether – as is the case – they constitute a culture in its own right. They grow up in a world vastly different from the one experienced by their parents. Young people adopt a common ‘tribal’ language and mode of behaviour – their own way of carving out an initial niche for themselves in the public sphere – as bizarre as the adult world may find this to be. Some important consequences are discussed in the study:
l It is not just the priest but the entire parish community that is called to link up with the adolescent world. The task will be carried out by people (mostly young people) who freely choose to ‘waste’ their time knocking around with the younger set;
l Adolescents are not all the same. Far from it. Hence the need for flexibility, for informality, to give time and provide a relaxed setting and environment, where at least one step forward can be made;
l The youth leaders are a class all of their own. Their common experiences of service should lead them to explore not just the external world where activities take place, but also the inner world of their own expectations and growth;
l The complexity of the world faced by youth in their various stages of growth evokes the need for an educational process to be kept up throughout the year. Networking with other experiences and projects developed by Church and state organisations becomes essential.
To be continued…