(Vatican Radio) “I … want to reaffirm this forcefully: the Church has confidence in
young people, she hopes in them and in their energies, she needs them and their vitality,
to continue to live the mission entrusted her by Christ with renewed enthusiasm”.
This was Pope Benedict XVI’s message to young people Thursday, as he greeted participants
at the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Emer McCarthy reports
In what has to be a first at the Vatican, the Plenary on “Emerging Youth Cultures” opened Wednesday evening with a Rock Concert, attended by council members, delegates and its President Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. The Italian group “The Sun” entertained the audience in the Aula Magna of the LUMSA university campus. They later also took part in a round table discussion led by French anthropologist David le Breton.
In an attempt to further encourage new channels of dialogue between young people and the Church, Card. Ravasi, is inviting young people to send questions and comments on emerging youth cultures to him, for the duration of the Plenary, using the twitter hashtag # Reply2Ravasi.
The Holy Father received participants in a private audience Thursday the first full day of working sessions. In his address he spoke of the current difficulties facing young people today, such as rising unemployment, marginalization from society, the dangerous obsession with celebrity cultures and growing tendencies towards individualism.
These phenomena he said are “effecting people on a psychological and relational level”, the result of several factors, such as social media, that are leading to an increasingly “fragmented, cultural landscape”.
Thus, the Pope noted “the “uncertainty and fragility that characterize so many young people, often pushes them to the margins, rendering them almost invisible and absent in the cultural and historical processes of societies”. Even “the religious dimension, the experience of faith and membership in the Church are often experienced in a private and emotional perspective”.
At the same time the Holy Father warned against a cliched view of youth cultures and noted their many “decidedly” positive aspects, such as young people's generosity and courage in helping those most in need. Above all he had a warning for wider society, not to clip the wings of the younger generation, who are the passport to the future for both the Church and society:
He concluded “If young people no longer had hopes, if they no longer progressed, if they no longer infused historical dynamics with their energy, their vitality, their ability to anticipate the future, we would find a humanity turned in on itself, lacking confidence and a positive outlook towards the future”.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s address [original Italian]
I am delighted to meet you at the opening of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, during which you will focus on understanding and deepening, from different perspectives, the "emerging youth cultures." I cordially greet the President, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, and I thank him for his courteous words addressed to me on behalf of you all. I greet the Members, the Consultors and all of the dicastery employees, in the hope that your work will be fruitful and provide a useful contribution to the Churches’ work in relation to the reality of youth; a complex reality, as has been said, and one that can not be understood within a the context of a culturally homogeneous universe, but with in a horizon that can be defined as "multiverse", that is determined by a plurality of views, perspectives and strategies. Therefore, it is appropriate to speak of "youth cultures", since the elements that distinguish and differentiate the phenomena and cultural areas prevail, over those which instead, they have in common. Several factors are in fact conspiring to draw an increasingly fragmented, cultural landscape in constant and rapid evolution, to which are social media, the new communication tools are no strangers given that they facilitate and sometimes are the very cause of continuous and rapid changes in mentality, customs, behaviour.
There is thus a climate of instability that touches the cultural, as well as the political and economic spheres - the latter also marked by young people’s difficulties in finding a job – mainly effecting people on a psychological and relational level. The uncertainty and fragility that characterize so many young people, often pushes them to the margins, rendering them almost invisible and absent in the cultural and historical processes of societies. And more and more frequently fragility and marginality result in the phenomena of drug addiction, deviance and violence. The sentimental and emotional sphere, the sphere of feelings, as well as the corporal sphere, are strongly affected by this climate and the cultural storms that follow, expressed, for example, in apparently contradictory phenomena, such as the celebrity obsession with personal lives and intimate relationships and the individualistic and narcissistic focus on personal needs and interests. Even the religious dimension, the experience of faith and membership in the Church are often experienced in a private and emotional perspective.
There are, however, decidedly positive phenomena. The generosity and courage of so many young volunteers who dedicate their best efforts to others in need, the sincere and deep experiences of faith of many young boys and girls who joyfully bear witness to their membership in the Church's efforts to build, in many parts of the world, societies capable of respecting the freedom and dignity of all, beginning with the smallest and weakest. All this comforts us and helps us to draw a more precise and objective image of youth cultures. We can not, therefore, content ourselves with a view of the phenomena of youth cultural dictated by established paradigms, which have become clichés, analyze them with methods that are no longer useful, such as outdated and inadequate cultural categories.
We are ultimately faced with an extremely complex but fascinating reality, which must be thoroughly understood and loved with a great spirit of empathy, whose bottom line and developments we must carefully grasp. Looking, for example, at the young people in many countries of the so-called "Third World", we realize that they represent, their cultures and their needs, a challenge to the global consumer society, to the culture of established privileges, which benefits a small group of the population of the western world. Youth cultures, as a result, "emerge" in the sense that exhibit a deep need, a call for help or even a "provocation" that can not be ignored or neglected, both by civil society or the ecclesial community. I have often expressed, for example, my concern and that of the whole Church for the so-called "educational emergency", which certainly is one among other "emergencies" that affect the different dimensions of the person and fundamental relationships and which can not be answered in an evasive and trite manner. I think, for example, of growing difficulties in the field of work or the effort it takes to remain faithful to the responsibilities we have taken on over time. An impoverishment, not only economic and social but also human and spiritual would follow, for the future of the world and of all humanity: If young people no longer had hopes, if they no longer progressed, if they no longer infused historical dynamics with their energy, their vitality, their ability to anticipate the future, we would find a humanity turned in on itself, lacking confidence and a positive outlook towards the future.
Although we are aware of the many problematic situations, which also affect the area of faith and membership of the Church, we renew our faith in the youth, to reaffirm that the Church sees their condition, their cultures, as an essential and unavoidable point of reference for her pastoral work. For this reason I would like to retrace some significant passages from the Message that the Second Vatican Council addressed to young people, as a grounds for reflection and inspiration for new generations. First it was stated: "The Church looks to you with confidence and love ... She possesses what constitutes the strength and the charm of youth, that is to say, the ability to rejoice with what is beginning, to give oneself unreservedly, to renew oneself and to set out again for new conquests". The Venerable Paul VI addressed this appeal to the youth of the world "it is in the name of this God and of His Son, Jesus, that we exhort you to open your hearts to the dimensions of the world, to heed the appeal of your brothers, to place your youthful energies at their service. Fight against all egoism. Refuse to give free course to the instincts of violence and hatred which beget wars and all their train of miseries. Be generous, pure, respectful, and sincere, and build in enthusiasm a better world than your elders had".
I also want to reaffirm this forcefully: the Church has confidence in the youth, she hopes in them and in their energies, she needs them and their vitality, to continue to live the mission entrusted her by Christ with renewed enthusiasm. I very much hope, therefore, that the Year of Faith be, even for the younger generation, a precious opportunity to rediscover and strengthen our friendship with Christ, which brings forth joy and enthusiasm to profoundly transform cultures and society.
Dear friends, thank you for the effort which you generously place at the service of the Church, and for your special attention towards young people, upon you all I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.