A Church… free, open, welcoming, inclusive, simple, poor, uncomplicated, closer, up-to-date, innovative, comprehensive, authentic, apolitical, humble, respectful, joyful…
Behind the generic name of Church there are actually many different experiences and young people distinguish one from another: the Church is their own parish, their own group, their own association, their own priest, their own ecclesial institution; each of these faces of ecclesial reality evokes different feelings and reactions in young people; interests and objections; attention and suspicion…
For those who have had a parish experience of a certain duration and intensity, Church means one’s own group, people who evoke situations and moments, more or less pleasant and interesting, depending on the case. Thinking about the parish means remembering faces and relationships: warm or anonymous, cordial or indifferent, friendly or conflicting.
For better or for worse, this is the aspect that leaves an imprint on the conscience of the new generations that is difficult to erase. There are those who have remained in the ecclesial environment because of the bond with some people, especially significant adult figures, and those who left because they did not feel understood, perceived themselves as excluded, or judged, or not valued. Relationships are very important in the lives of young people.
For the majority of young people, the church is an anonymous, cold, unattractive place: a context to which it is not worth belonging. The experience lived in one’s community calls into question the concrete daily style of ecclesial life, its relational style, a privileged vehicle for communicating the human quality of its life and its message.
Much more problematic is the relationship with the Church as an institution: for many adolescents and especially young people, this constitutes the greatest obstacle to their belonging. For many it seems unthinkable that the religious experience and the relationship with God, which they experience in a very personal and sometimes individualistic way, could be inscribed within an institutional reality that they perceive as mortifying due to the spontaneity of a feeling that in their opinion does not tolerate restrictions that come from the outside.
This aspect is certainly influenced by that trait of youthful sensitivity that finds it difficult to accept that their subjectivity is limited from the outside and which leads them to have a problematic relationship not only with the Church but with all institutions; it certainly also concerns the Church.
The ecclesial style is perceived as old, boring, cold, and closed. It is clear that a reality perceived in this way cannot be attractive, interesting or engaging. It should also be noted that this way of seeing the ecclesial reality does not only belong to young people who have decided to move away but is also shared by those who have felt they had some reason to stay or to return.
A Church… free, open, welcoming, inclusive, simple, poor, uncomplicated, closer, current, innovative, comprehensive, authentic, apolitical, humble, respectful, and joyful are the adjectives with which young people represent their dream of the Church.
These qualities speak of a passion for the Church, expressed by young people who also declare they have abandoned it. It could perhaps be said that many abandonments arise from a passion, even before and even more than from rejection; from a wound that doesn’t heal.
There is a desire among young people for a warm, human, welcoming Church, as a twenty-five-year-old with a very effective image states: “The Church should be like a dinner at a friend’s house, where you are free to talk about what you want knowing that on the other side, there are people who love you and who listen to you and who don’t judge you, regardless of what you say and what you think. And also let it be a moment of conviviality.”
And then young people would like a Church in dialogue: with them and with everyone, not dogmatically entrenched in its own positions, but willing to listen, to discuss, to question itself. The indisputable nature of its positions, even beyond their content, is in itself a reason for distancing.
How many of the young people who have distanced themselves from the Church are willing to return? Many answer “Yes, but… “Yes, but on condition that the Church changes”, “With a Church like this, no”. Several of the interviewees’ responses can be summarized in this way. The relationship with the Church is not definitively severed, but it cannot be with a Church that tastes of an ancient, dull flavour, far from flavour the demands of the people of today.
Is there a possible rapprochement today between the world of youth and the Church? What steps would young people expect? It is not that the Church should do something particular for young people, but rather it should change its life in those aspects that cause distancing.
It is not that the Church must build its life and its thoughts on the basis of requests from young people or anyone else; however, one cannot fail to evaluate the question of authenticity that exists in their positions: this should be recognized and it deserves an answer.
Young people do not ask her just to change, but to do so from the perspective of the Gospel: to show interest in the existence of people and express the desire to encounter that life that beats in their conscience and in their hearts, as in that of many, not just young people. (Ed.)