Pope's Response to Priests on Youth
"Open the Way to Conversion, to the Joy That God Exists"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, OCT 1, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the last of five answers that Benedict XVI gave to as many questions from priests of the Diocese of Albano during a meeting Aug. 31 at papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The residence is located in the diocese.
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Father Gualtiero Isacchi, director of diocesan office for pastoral care of youth:
Young people are the focus of a more decisive attention on the part of our dioceses and of the entire Church in Italy. The World Days have led them to this discovery: There are a great many young people and they are enthusiastic.
Yet, our parishes in general are not adequately equipped to welcome them; parish communities and pastoral workers are not sufficiently trained to talk to them; the priests involved in the various tasks do not have the time required to listen to them. They are remembered when they become a problem or when we need them to enliven some celebration or festivity.
How can a priest today express a preferential option for young people in view of his busy pastoral agenda? How can we serve young people based on their own scale of values instead of involving them in "our own things"?
I would like first of all to stress what you have said. On the occasion of the World Youth Days and at other events -- as recently, on the eve of Pentecost -- it appears that young people are also in search of God. The young want to see if God exists and what God tells us.
Consequently, there is a certain willingness, in spite of all the difficulties of our time. An enthusiasm also exists. Therefore, we must do all we can to try to keep alive this flame that shows itself on occasions such as the World Youth Days.
What shall we do? This is our common question. I think that precisely here, an "integrated pastoral care" should be put into practice, for in fact not every parish priest can cope adequately with youth. He therefore needs a pastoral apostolate that transcends the limits of the parish and that also transcends the limits of the priest's work; a pastoral apostolate that involves numerous pastoral workers.
It seems to me that under the bishop's coordination, a way should be found, on the one hand, to integrate young people into the parish so that they may be the leaven of parish life; and on the other, also to obtain for these youth the help of extra-parochial personnel.
These two things must go hand-in-hand. It is necessary to suggest to young people that not only in the parish but also in various contexts they must integrate themselves into the life of the dioceses so as to meet subsequently in the parish; so it is necessary to encourage all initiatives along these lines.
I think that volunteer experience is very important nowadays. It is vital not to leave young people to the mercy of discos but to have useful tasks for them to do in which they see that they are necessary, realize that they can do something good. By feeling this impulse to do something useful for humanity, for someone, for a group, young people also become aware of this incentive to strive to find the "track" of a positive commitment, of a Christian ethic.
It seems to me very important that young people truly find tasks that demonstrate that they are needed, that guide them on the way of a positive service of assistance inspired by Christ's love for men and women, so that they themselves seek the sources from which to draw strength and commitment.
Another experience is offered by the prayer groups where, in their own youthful context, the young learn to listen to the word of God, to learn the word of God and to enter into contact with God. This also means learning the common form of prayer, the liturgy, which at first sight might perhaps seem rather inaccessible to them.
They learn that the word of God exists and seeks us out, despite all the distance of the times, and speaks to us today. We offer to the Lord the fruit of the earth and of the work of our hands and we find it transformed into a gift of God.
We speak as children to the Father and we then receive the gift of the Lord himself. We receive the mission to go out into the world with the gift of his presence.
It would also be useful to have liturgy schools that young people could attend. Moreover, opportunities for young people to present and introduce themselves are vital. I heard that here in Albano a play on the life of St. Francis was performed.
Committing oneself in this sense means desiring to penetrate the personality of St. Francis, of his time, and thereby widening one's own personality. It is only an example, something apparently fairly unusual. It can be a lesson to broaden the personality, to enter into a context of Christian tradition, to reawaken the thirst for a better knowledge of the sources from which this saint drew. He was not only an environmentalist or a pacifist. He was above all a convert.
I read with great pleasure that Bishop Sorrentino of Assisi, precisely to obviate this "abuse" of the figure of St. Francis, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of his conversion wished to establish a "Year of Conversion" to see what the true "challenge" is.
Perhaps we can all animate youth a little to make the meaning of conversion understood by also finding a link with the figure of St. Francis and seeking a route that broadens life. Francis was first a kind of "playboy." He then felt that this was not enough. He heard the Lord's voice: "Rebuild my house." Little by little, he came to understand what "building the house of the Lord" means.
I do not, therefore, have very practical answers, because I find myself facing a mission where I already find young people gathered, thanks be to God. But it seems to me that one ought to make use of all the possibilities offered today by the movements, associations and volunteer groups and in other activities for youth. It is also necessary to present young people to the parish so that it sees who the young people are.
Vocation promotion is necessary. The whole thing must be coordinated by the bishop. It seems to me that pastoral workers are found through the same authentic cooperation of young people who are training. And thus, it is possible to open the way to conversion, to the joy that God exists and is concerned about us, that we have access to God and can help others "rebuild his house."
It seems to me that this, finally, is our mission, sometimes difficult, but in the end very beautiful: to "build God's house" in the contemporary world.
Thank you for your attention and I ask you to forgive me for my disconnected answers. Let us collaborate so that "God's house" in our time will grow and many young people will find the path of service to the Lord.
[Translation of Italian original issued by the Holy See; adapted]
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Pope, Benedict, Youth, Priests, God
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