Our house overlooks the piazza of Saint Giulia, a place where young people gather for Turin’s nightlife. The questions that fill my spirit, as I look outside the window, are roughly these: “What are they looking for? Does what they find reach the depths of their desires? And what can I, personally, give to their lives?”
Last January I had lunch with two young girls in their third year of middle school, who had remained in contact with us after receiving the sacrament of confirmation. Silvia asked me some questions about the faith, regarding the fact that at times she lives her faith in God, and other times she has doubts. Often it is her classmates who don’t believe who provoke these doubts. Other times, it’s upon seeing that there is so much evil in the world, so much pain, that this pain and evil seem an objection to the existence of God, or at least to his goodness. I asked the other student, Francesca, what she thought of Silvia’s question and she responded: “Since I met you I no longer feel alone, because I discovered that Someone greater than us has brought us together. And even if my classmates don’t know this or realize it, I am certain that He is. Without Him I would have never been able to imagine a friendship like this. I didn’t plan to meet you, it simply happened. And no doubt can put this into question.” I saw in these two girls the re-happening of an encounter with God, between them and also with us. How can we help them in this discovery? What can we do so that this friendship continues?
Each Friday I meet with some high schoolers. It’s a simple moment of living life together. We began these meetings by telling each other: “Recount the most beautiful things, or the most difficult, that happened to you during the week.” The students had difficulty looking at what happened to them, reflecting on it, and using their reason instead of only their feeling. It is a fundamental step for them to start from their experience and then to look at that experience, but it’s not enough. We began to have lessons, every now and then, on the theme that emerged from this dialogue with them. The goal is to show what Christ has to say about the questions that emerge in life. For example, this year I spoke about friendship, studying, and trust between people as related to faith.
Nevertheless, an hour-long meeting is not sufficient for the Christian proposal to take root in a lasting and fascinating way. For this reason, we eat dinner together before the meeting. It’s a simple moment, but during it many things come out that would not emerge otherwise. We set the table, clear the table, share food with each other, and describe how our days went.
Once a month, we propose a mass specifically for high schoolers. After, we have half an hour of silence in the church, during which we distribute the text from the lesson. In the text from the lesson we add examples from the students in their conversations with us. After, we have an assembly, and a dinner and evening together.
One of the things that surprises me the most in the high school freshman is the desire that they have to invite their friends. Since last September, many of their classmates have joined our group, friends who perhaps had catechesis and then left, others coming from who knows where. I never spoke with them about mission or witnessing. But it’s evident that, by participating in a positive experience, they desire to communicate it with others, though sometimes in a manner a bit clumsy or inadequate, as I do too. I see something happening in them that I also experience: we communicate only what we live.
(Stefano Lavelli, ordained in 2013, is the assistant pastor at Saint Giulia in Turin. In the photo above: students of Lavelli on vacation together.)