Fr Anthony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, continues his series on a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.
Youth services online.
One final, and perhaps most significant, finding of the research study on the involvement of the Church in Lombardy with its youth via a wide range of targeted activities is the need to ‘professionalise’ its youth services. Of course nothing can replace the vast amount of goodwill demonstrated by adults and young people alike, but their store of experience, skills and knowledge accumulated over the years needs to be monitored and subsequently disseminated for the benefit of everybody. The Oratori programs, the Cre-Grest, and special programs for youth leaders should be monitored and made available in such a way as to become a Church-wide experience.
The documents of the Church stress, time and again, that the task of educating the young is incumbent on the whole Catholic community. Revisiting the history of the Oratori and the massive effort assembled for the Cre-Grest has been a healthy process, leading one to wonder how much can be achieved with scant resources apart from the vast reservoir of goodwill. This ripple effect begins with the very young, goes on to touch adolescents and young people, and then reaches the adults (including priests and Religious) and vice-versa. It evokes an informal, elastic sense of community, where mutual understanding and support are very real.
The Oratorio experience is not highly structured. Nor is it framed within very clear and precise parameters. Priorities, programs and strategies are continually reformulated and shaped according to the needs that arise. The participants, ie the young people at varying degrees of development, are constantly forcing changes and adaptations. Growing together in a spirit of informality, where nothing is final but everybody can become responsible for a new beginning – this is its genius.
Common objections along the lines that “Far too much time seems to be spent playing games together, so that young people do not show much care for the premises they use, and the core leadership (priests and small band of adults) seem to be lenient about excesses in exuberant behaviour” are, in the final analysis, small costs towards gaining the great outcomes being silently achieved.
The youngest as well as the oldest users of the Oratorio facilities know for a fact that the Church is never far away, that the people offering this service are well connected with the Church and are not motivated by fame or profit, but only by their goodwill to be of help. In the daily interactions with a variety of older people, the younger ones begin to experience a sense of belonging and of community. As local experiences come together like tiny tiles in a great mosaic, as networking between the youth ministries becomes the rule, it will also be important (so the study suggests) to move along with the times and with the young people, with their ever-changing modes of communication among themselves and with the adult world.
The marketing skills of modern technology draft people, young ones particularly, into acting like sheep. The Oratorio stands out as a place where young people can at least encounter their individual humanity and experience their God-given uniqueness.