Fr Tony Pagaonoi: Italians give key lessons in youth ministry

11 Mar 2009

By The Record

The fifth installment in a series of articles on a fascinating story, a long-running successful initiative in youth ministry in the province of Lombardy, Italy.


In studying the data from the sample of 117 groupings the researchers identified a good deal of common ground, which surprisingly indicated that there was very little difference between the official terminology and spoken jargon. Terms such as fraternity, daily living, relation with the group, community evenings, prayers and group experiences or convivenza had emerged during the informal conversations with the participants, signalling that a deeper sense of cohesion was indeed possible. Equally surprising and encouraging was to discover that the participants’ goals and objectives were fairly uniform and highlighted three common concerns felt by the young people:
1. Their willingness to face the various phases of growth from adolescence to adult life within a new social context which, unlike their family system, they had become fully responsible for. Though facilitated by a team of supervisors, the group experience was decidedly organised and conducted with the full co-operation of all participants.
2. A new way of living out one’s own faith. This meant a greater degree of autonomy in actually deciding one’s own religious stance and, at the same time, being able to express one’s own views face to face with other young people. The flexibility and heightened sense of adaptability within the group setting were very much appreciated by all participants.
3. A new way of living out their sense of belonging to the local parish community. Despite the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by such young people in an advanced society, there was  nevertheless a sense that their lives needed to be grounded somewhere. The consensus,  corroborated by a series of in-depth interviews conducted by the research team, was the need to belong to a community. This could find meaning by linkage either with local or religious institutions.
This re-appropriation of the value of community and community living, of pleasure in dialogue – all too often lost in the anonymity of the home environment because too preoccupied, even when family members are together, with safeguarding one’s own egotistical tendencies – is one of the most striking and beneficial outcomes. The search for meaningful and expressive ways to be with and to form communities stands in sharp contrast with the overstated tendency to independence and autonomy reflected in the lives of young people today.
Through the experience of communal living with their peers (in age and educational process), comes the discovery of the enjoyment of being able to hold discussions which, at the level of family life, were almost non-existent.
The adolescents pointed out critically that too much ‘passive time’ was being wasted in front of the television.
Even if the all too brief experience was not meant to radically transform existing patterns, it was seen by the participants as an eye-opener, an option that could be further developed with friends made during the actual convivenza or with the Oratorio representatives. One participant confided, Now I know that I have grown up and that, if I wanted to go and live in another society, I would be able to cope with it.