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Pope Francis and Italian youths. Fr Falabretti (SNPG): “Walking together to never depart from the idea of our calling”

The meeting of young people with the Pope in Rome, titled “We are here”, will take place in less than a month, August 11-12. At least fifty thousand youths are expected to arrive in the capital city from 200 dioceses, at the end of a week along the pilgrims’ ways of their places of origin. We spoke about the meaning of this meeting and of its goals with Fr Michele Falabretti, director of the National Service for the Pastoral Care of young people (SNPG).

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

The meeting between young people in Rome, titled “We are here”, will take place in less than a month, August 11-12. At least fifty thousand youths are expected to arrive in the capital city from 200 dioceses, at the end of a week walking along the pilgrims’ ways of their places of origin. They will all convene in the Circus Maximus in Rome, where on Saturday August 11, from 6.pm to 8 pm they will take part in a prayer vigil with Pope Francis. On Sunday August 12, at 9.30, they will gather in St. Peter’s Square for the closing Mass celebrated by Cardinal Bassetti, president of Italian Bishops, for the conferral of the missionary mandate and the Angelus Prayer. SIR asked Father Michele Falabretti, at the lead of the National Service for the Pastoral Care of young people, to share the details of the event.

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

Father Falabretti, what is the meaning of the two-day event and what’s its purpose?

The purpose is to gather in prayer ahead of the Synod on young people that will take place October next, a veritable epochal event. In this respect prayer is the starting point of youth ministry, and to a larger extent, of the ecclesial realm.

Since the Synod is a journey we wanted this meeting to be a shared journey, proposed in first person, with the idea of making young people understand that the Church intends to be their travel companion, and accompany them along the way. And most of all, to make them understand that if they wish to, they can continue their journey inside a community, inside the Church.

It could be defined a “call to arms” for the young…

We can’t depart from the idea of our calling.

In my opinion the Christian community is loosing track of the idea whereby “I believe because Someone called me.” We need to rediscover our calling that stems from the Word of God and that shapes the Church. The fact of walking together is a reminder of this.

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

Could the meeting be viewed as a sign of the Pope’s special closeness to Italian youths?

There are no preferences. It can be said that in this case physics plays a role (he laughs). It’s clear that when Pope Francis looks around himself he sees Italy and his eyes meet the gaze of Italians. However, it should be pointed out that the meeting in Rome is Pope Francis’ first national meeting with Italian young people. It occurred also in 2007 with Benedict XVI in Montorso (Loreto), with the Agora of young Italians.

Youths will be arriving in Rome after having walked to shrines that are dear to their spiritual traditions and after having visited significant places of human suffering (hospitals, prisons) …

The idea of the journey encompasses significant aspects for our present times. First of all it should be understood as an extension of the activity of the Synod. The Synod is the assembly of the Pope and of the Bishops who gather for joint reflection, and that’s what our youths will do as they are on the move. They remind us that faith is a journey, a movement, an invitation to never stand still. Secondly, being on the move is an important feature for pastoral ministry. We always tell ourselves that today there are greater challenges compared to the past, that we feel disoriented. We need to remind ourselves that being on the move is already an answer to our countless questions.

Undertaking a journey is the attitude that our present times require of Christians as we are asked to become travel companions.

Finally, it should be underlined that along our journey we meet the stories of mankind, their difficulties of believing and of living. In the encounter with the history of saints, of witnesses, young people meet the lived out Gospel and thus they absorb it. The Gospel is known through its encounter not only through the talk of it.

“We are here” is the theme of the meeting. Two words through which young people seem to want to attract not only the attention of the Pope but also that of the Church and of society as a whole. Is that the case?

I hope it is. The young people who will be arriving will also be facing the world of adults that often seems to deny their very presence. In reality, young people are present, and not only when they gather for these events. The most annoying aspect of these events is the question “how many are there?”, as if young people could be reduced to a number. Instead, we will be together with tens of thousands of stories, of lives, each one individually loved by God.

The appeal of these young people to the Church is to be considered as an encouragement and a provocation to the religious sentiment of adults. I also hope that their presence will attract the attention of civil society, for as there are many ways of being adult, there are also many ways of being young. Far from making rankings or being judgemental it should be said that some youths have the courage to undertake the journey.

As relates to the programme, what does the Saturday evening prayer vigil envisage?

The vigil will be divided in two parts: in the first there will be a dialogue, a conversation between the Pope and a group of young people who will share reflections pertaining to their realm. It will be an open, earnest dialogue. In the second part a prayer will embrace the theme of the Church’s journey up to the Synod and the path undertaken by the young to reach Rome, a stretch of the road of their life.

And after the vigil?

There will be a break for dinner and then a couple of hours of leisure and relax with a concert performed by Italian artists. In the afternoon invited guests on the podium will include the members of the “The Sun” music band. At Midnight, the White Night begins…

Could you explain?

Rome’s churches located in the area that goes from the Circus Maximus to Saint Peter’s, will be open for prayer, confessions, and to listen to testimonies of faith. Night time helps us focus on what is essential: it will be an experience of spirituality. Many churches propose the sacrament of Reconciliation that is closely bound to the experience of pilgrimage and of the journey, representing a time of self-examination. My hope is to learn that many young people have embraced this sacrament and that many have returned to it. On that night the churches will be home to whoever wishes to cross their threshold, not only of registered youths.

On Sunday, the final Mass in St.Peter’s Square…

The Holy Mass will be celebrated by the President of Italian Bishops, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, together with over 100 bishops and 1200 priests. The Pope will be arriving at the end of Mass, he will go around the square and across Via della Conciliazione where the youths  will be gathered. He will then go to the altar for the address of Cardinal Bassetti and from there he will confer the mandate to young people and impart his blessing on Our Lady of Loreto and on the San Damiano Crucifix – the gifts we will be sending to the WYD in Panama. The Angelus prayer will close the event. From then on we shall be focusing on the Synod of October and on the WYD in Panama, two important events where young people are once again at the centre.

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