Young people in crisis

Gianluca Avagnina reflects on the role of faith in young people’s lives


1 Sep 2011

It was very impressive to see the pictures of young people blissfully celebrating World Youth Day (WYD) in Madrid, and as an Italian it was particularly inspiring to see so many Italian flags in the crowd (Italy had the second largest group of WYD pilgrims after Spain itself).

But it was also especially elevating for me as a young person, because those images of intense joy and spiritual participation can be so starkly contrasted with recent images of young people committing senseless violence in England.

This is a difficult time across the world, where the darkness of financial crisis and social unrest has arisen. WYD can be considered a pinpoint of light in this darkness, for young people facing an uncertain future.

The popular Italian Catholic weekly magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, reports that, over the past 10 years, 331,000 young people between 20 and 40 years have left Italy. And I am strongly tempted to leave, like lots of my friends.

Cardinal Luigi Tettamanzi launched an appeal to the political and social leaders asking them to be more focused on young people, and this was followed by the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, who has called the current situation a ”failure of democracy”.

And young people’s discomfort is not just an Italian problem. The recent riots in England are a clear example of a general discomfort.

Many rioters were under 20 years old; they came from different racial and religious backgrounds, but joined their forces using new communication technologies against a political, municipal and financial system which they feel betrayed them.

Are we really a lost generation? Not yet, not completely, if we look at events like WYD, where two million people came from 193 nations gathered in the name of the hope.

Christian identity

Pope Benedict’s introductory speech was very significant: ”Many young people think of their future with concern due to the difficulty of finding decent work” and ”in this context it is urgently necessary to help Jesus’ young disciples to keep a strong faith and to conserve their Christian identity”.

Many young pilgrims’ impressions have been enthusiastic on their return home.

”For so many guys like us, from different countries, sharing hymns, praises, choruses, seriousness and quiet moments of prayer, have made us understand what Jesus had meant in the message of communion.

”Many friendships have been formed and many smiles have been given away, despite the heat, and the rain on Saturday night,” one Italian pilgrim said.

”The Gospel of the Mass on Sunday told the Apostolic Mission of spreading Jesus’ message, and I was thinking to myself: now it is up to us, and it will be always up to each of us, not to anyone else,” another concluded.

Serious and mature words that made me think, because they are the voice of a generation that wants to take its own responsibility and to build its future — the opposite aims of those rioters, who take no responsibility and live in the present.

Do these young people have a little something extra? I don’t know.

The only thing I know is that in times of such uncertainty, the Church has never stopped being the Church, despite all its problems.

It is a fixed reference point, which offers comfort and support, and perhaps this is the message that WYD pilgrims can bring home and share with other young people.


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