On being “protagonists”, attending to “reality” and enabling people/workers/families to be more rooted and secure

Cross-posted from Zenit on 22 June 2017

Pope’s Words When Opening Annual Congress of the Diocese of Rome

‘Our boys and girls seek to be and want to feel themselves – logically – protagonists’

© PHOTO.VA – OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope Francis arrived the afternoon of Monday, June 19, 2017, in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, where he opened the annual Congress of the Diocese of Rome.

Shortly before entering Rome’s cathedral, he went to the living room of the building adjacent to the church, where he met with some 30 immigrants housed by the parishes of religious institutes of his diocese.

The Pontiff spoke with some of the children, who had made some posters, and with their parents.

Here is a ZENIT working translation of the Holy Father’s address to those present:

* * *

The Holy Father’s Address 

As that priest said: “Before speaking, I’ll say two words.”

I wish to thank Cardinal Vallini for his words and I would like to say something that he could not say, because it is under secret, but the Pope can say it. When, after the election, I was told that I had to go first to the Pauline Chapel and then on the balcony to greet the people, there came to mind immediately the name of the Cardinal Vicar: “I am Bishop, there is a Vicar General . . .: Immediately. I also heard it with sympathy and I called him. And from the other side, was Cardinal Hummes, who was next to me during the voting and said things to me that helped me. These two accompanied me, and from that moment I said: “On the balcony with my Vicar.” There, on the balcony, he accompanied me from that moment and I wish to thank him. He has so many virtues and also a sense of objectivity that has helped me so many times, because sometimes I “fly” and he has made me “land” with much charity . . . I thank you, Eminence, for the company. However, Cardinal Vallini is not retiring, because he belongs to six Congregations and he will continue to work, and it’s better this way, because a Neapolitan without work would be a calamity in the diocese . . .[He laughs, they laugh, applause] I want to thank him in public for his help. Thank you!

And good evening to you!

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to open this diocesan Congress, in which you will treat an important subject for the life of our families: to accompany parents in the education of adolescent children.

During these days you will reflect on some key arguments that correspond in some way to places in which our being family is at stake: the home, the school, social networks, the inter-generational relationship, the precariousness of life and family isolation. There are workshops on these topics.

I would like to share some “assumptions” with you, which can help you in this reflection. We often don’t realize it, but the spirit with which we reflect is as important as the contents (a good sportsman knows that the warm up counts as much as the subsequent performance). Therefore, this conversation hopes to help you in this sense: a “warm up,” and then it will be up to you to “stake all on the field.” I will do the exposition in small chapters.

  1. In Roman dialect!

I wished to call the first key to enter this topic “in Roman dialect”: the dialect precisely of Romans. Not rarely we fall into the temptation of thinking or reflecting on things “in general,” “in the abstract.” To think of problems, of situations of adolescents . . . And thus, without realizing it, we fall fully into nominalism. We want to embrace everything but we don’t attain anything. Today I invite you to think of this topic “in dialect.” And to do so, it is necessary to make a notable effort, because you are asked to think of our families in the context of a great city like Rome, with all its richness, opportunities, variety and, at the same time, with all its challenges. Not to shut oneself in and ignore the rest (we are always Italians), but to address the reflection and even in moments of prayer, with a healthy and stimulating realism — no abstractions, no generalizations, no nominalism.

The life of families and the education of adolescents in a large metropolis, such as this one, demands at the base particular attention and we cannot take it lightly, because it’s not the same thing to educate or be a family in a small country as it is in a metropolis. I don’t say that it is better or worse, it is simply different. The complexity of the capital does not admit reductive synthesis, rather, it stimulates to a polyhedric way of thinking, by which every district and zone finds an echo in the diocese and thus the diocese can make itself visible, tangible in every ecclesial community, with its own way of being. Uniformity is a great enemy.

You live the tensions of this great city. In many of the pastoral visits I have undertaken I was presented with some of your daily, concrete experiences: the distances between house and work (in some cases up to two hours to arrive); the lack of close family bonds, because of the fact of having to move to find work or to be able to pay the rent, always living “to the last cent” to reach the end of the month, because the rhythm of life is per se more costly (in the countryside it is better); the often insufficient time to know the neighbours where we live; in very many cases, having to leave children alone And so we could go on listing a great number of situations that touch the life of our families. Therefore, do the reflection, the prayer “in the Roman dialect,” concretely, with all these concrete things, which every concrete family faces and thinking how you can help one another to form your children within this reality. The Holy Spirit is the great initiator and generator of processes in our societies and situations. He is the great guide of transforming and saving dynamics. With Him you will not be afraid to “walk” in your neighbourhoods, and to think how to give impetus to an accompaniment for parents and adolescents, that is, concrete.

  1. Together with the preceding, I pause on another important aspect. Little by little the present situation is making grow in all of our lives, and especially in our families, the experience of feeling “uprooted.” There is talk of the “liquid society” – and it is so – but, in this context, today I would like to present to you the growing phenomenon of the uprooted society. That is to say, persons and families that little by little go losing their bonds, that very important vital fabric to feel part of one another, participants with others in a common project. It is the experience of knowing that we “belong” to others (in the most noble sense of the term). It is important to keep in mind this atmosphere of uprootedness, because little by little it passes through our eyes and especially in the life of our children. An uprooted culture, an uprooted family is a family without history, without memory, without roots, in fact. And when there are no roots, any wind ends up dragging one. Therefore, one of the things we must think about as parents, as families, as Pastors are the scenes where to root ourselves, where to generate bonds, find roots, where we make that vital network grow which enables us to feel “at home.” Today the social networks seem to offer us this “network” space, of connection with others, and they even make our children feel part of a group. However, the problem they entail, because of their virtual nature itself, is that they leave us “in the air” – I said “liquid society”; we can say “gaseous society” — and, therefore, very “volatile”; a “volatile society.” There is no worse alienation for a person than to feel he/she has no roots; that he/she does not belong to anyone. This principle is very important to accompany adolescents.

So often we exact from our children an excessive formation in some fields that we consider important for their future. We make them study a quantity of things so that they give the “maximum.” However, we do not give as much importance to the fact that they should know their land, their roots. We deprive them of the knowledge of genes and of the Saints they generated. I know that you have a laboratory dedicated to the inter-generational dialogue, to the area of grandparents. I know that it can seem repetitive but I feel it as something that the Holy Spirit presses in my heart, so that our young people have visions, are “dreamers,” can address future times with daring and courage, it is necessary that they listen to the prophetic dreams of their fathers (Cf. Joel 3:2). If we want our children to be formed and prepared for tomorrow, it is not only by learning languages (to give an example) that they will succeed. It is necessary that they connect, that they know their roots. Only thus will they be able to fly high, otherwise they will be taken by the “visions” of others. And I come back to this; I am obsessed, perhaps, but . . . Parents must make room for their children to talk with their grandparents. So often a grandfather or grandmother is in a Rest Home and they do not go to see them . . . They must talk, even override their parents, but take the roots of the grandparents. Grandparents have this quality of the transmission of history, of faith, of belonging. And they do so with wisdom as one who is on the threshold, soon to depart. I return, I said, sometimes, to the passage of Joel 3:2: “Your elders will dream and your children will prophesy.” And you are the bridge. Today we do not let grandparents dream; we reject them. This culture rejects grandparents because grandparents do not produce: this is “the disposable culture.” But grandparents can dream only when they meet with new life, then they dream, talk . . . But think of Simeon, think of that holy gossiper Anna, who went from one side to the other saying” It is He! It is He!” And this is beautiful; this is beautiful.

It is grandparents that dream and give children <the sense of> belonging of which they are in need. I would like you to do, in this inter-generational laboratory, an examination of conscience on this, to find the concrete history in grandparents and not leave them to one side. I don’t know if I said this once, but there comes to my memory a story that one of my two grandmothers taught me as a child. There was once in a family a widowed grandfather: he lived with the family but had grown old and when they ate his soup or saliva would drip and he soiled himself a bit. And the father decided to have him eat alone in the kitchen,” “so we can invite friends . . .” It was like that. A few days later, he came home from work and found his son playing with a hammer, nails and wood . . . “But what are you making?” — “A table” – “A table, why”?” “A table to eat” – “But why?” “So that when you grow old, you can eat there, alone.” This child had intuitively understood where the roots were.

  1. In movement 

Educate adolescents in movement. Adolescence is a passing phase in life not only of your children but of the whole family – it is the whole family that is in a passing phase –, you know it well and you live it and, as such, we must face it in its global nature. It is a phase-bridge, and for this reason adolescents <do not belong> here or there, they are on the way, in transit. They are not children (and they do not want to be treated as such) and they are not adults (but they want to be treated as such, especially at the level of privileges). In fact they live this tension, first of all in themselves and then with those that surround them.[1] Sometimes they seek confrontation, they ask, discuss everything, seek answers, and sometimes they do not listen to the answers and ask another question before the parents give the answer .. . . They pass through various states of mind, and the families with them. However, allow me to say to you that it is a precious time in the life of your children. A difficult time, yes, a time of changes and of instability, yes, a phase that presents great risks, without a doubt. However, above all, it is a time of growth for them and for the whole family. Adolescence is not a pathology and we cannot address it as if it is. A son that lives his adolescence (no matter how difficult it is for his parents) is a son with a future and hope. I am often worried by the present tendency to “medicalize” our youngsters precociously. It seems that everything is resolved by medicating or controlling everything with the slogan “exploit time to the maximum,” and thus it turns out that youngsters’ agenda is worse than that of a senior leader.

Therefore, I insist: adolescence is not a pathology that we must combat. It is part of normal growth, natural to the life of our youngsters. Where there is life there is movement; where there is movement there are changes, seeking, uncertainties; there is hope, joy and also anguish and desolation. Let us frame well our discernments within the foreseeable vital processes. There are margins that it is necessary to know not to be alarmed, not to be negligent either, but to be able to accompany and help to grow. Not everything is indifferent, nor does everything have the same importance. Therefore it is necessary to discern which battles must be fought and which ones not. Of much use in this is to listen to couples with experience, which although they will never give us a recipe, they will help us with their testimony to know this or that margin or gamut of behaviour.

Our boys and girls seek to be and want to feel themselves – logically – protagonists. They do not like at all to feel commanded or to respond to “orders” that come from the adult world (they follow the rules of play of their “accomplices”). They seek that accomplice’s autonomy that makes them feel that they “alone command themselves.” And here we must be pay attention to uncles, especially those uncles that do not have children or who are no married. I learned the first bad words from a ”bachelor” uncle [they laugh]. To earn the liking of nephews, uncles often do not do good. There was an uncle who secretly gave us cigarettes … Things of that time. And now . . . I do not say that they are evil, but it is necessary to be careful. In this search for autonomy that boys and girls want, we find a good opportunity, especially for schools, parishes and Ecclesial Movements, to stimulate activities that put them to the test, which make them feel protagonists. They need this, let us help them! They seek in many ways the vertigo that makes them feel alive. Therefore, let us give it to them! Let us stimulate all that helps them to transforms their dreams into projects, and to discover that all the potential they have is a bridge, a passage to a vocation (in the widest and best sense of the word). Let us suggest to them broad goals, great challenges and let us help them realize them, and reach their goals. Let us not leave them alone. Therefore, let us trust them more than they trust us. Let us not let them get “vertigo” from others, who do no more than put their life at risk: let us give it to them. However, the right vertigo that satisfies this desire to move, to go forward. We see that in many parishes, that have this capacity to “take up” adolescents . . .: “On these three days of vacation, let’s go to the mountains, do something . . .; or we go to whitewash that school of a poor district that is in need . . .” Make them protagonists of something.

This requires finding educators capable of committing themselves in youngsters’ growth. It requires educators driven by love and by the passion to have the life of Jesus’ Spirit grow in them, to have them see that to be Christians calls for courage and is a beautiful thing. To educate today’s adolescents we cannot continue to use a merely scholastic model of instruction, of ideas alone. No. It is necessary to follow the rhythm of their growth. It is important to help them to acquire self-esteem, to believe that they can really succeed in what they propose to themselves – always in movement.

  1. An integrated education

 This process calls for development in a simultaneous and integrated way of the different languages that constitutes them as persons. That is to say to teach our youngsters to integrate all that they are and do. We can call it a socio-integrated literacy, namely, an education based on the intellect (the head), the affections (the heart) and action (the hands). This will give our youngsters the possibility of a harmonious growth not only at the personal but at the same time at the social level. It is urgent to create places where social fragmentation is not the dominant scheme. To this end, it is necessary to teach them to think about what they feel and do, to feel what they think and do, to do what they think and feels namely, to integrate the three languages. =– a dynamism of capacity put at the service of the person and of society. This will help to make our youngsters feel active and protagonists in the growth processes and will lead them also to feel called to take part in the building of the community.

They want to be protagonists: let us give them the space, so that they can be protagonists, orienting them – obviously – and giving them the instruments to develop all this growth. Therefore, I believe that the harmonious integration of different knowledges – of the mind, of the heart and of the hands – will help them to build their personality. We often think that education is to impart knowledge and along the way we leave emotional illiterates and youngsters with so many unfulfilled projects because they have not found someone to teach them to “do.” We have concentrated education on the brain neglecting the heart and the hands. And this is also a form of social fragmentation.

When the guards take their leave in the Vatican, I receive those that are taking their leave one by one. Day before yesterday I received six, one by one. “What do you do, what will you do . . .” I thank you for your service. And one of them said this to me: “I will go to be a carpenter, because my father taught me so many things abut this, and also my grandfather.” The desire to “do”: this boy was well educated with he language of doing; and he also had a good heart, because he thought of his father and his grandfather: a good affective heart. To learn “how something is done” . . . This struck me.

  1. Yes to adolescence, no to competition 

As a last element, it is important that we reflect on an environmental dynamic that challenges us all. It is interesting to observe how boys and girls want to be “grownups” and “grownups” want to be or have become adolescents.

We cannot ignore this culture, from the moment that it is an air that we all breathe. Today there is a sort of competition between parents and children, different from that of other times, in which verified normally was the confrontation between one another. Today we have passed from confrontation to competition, which are two different things. They are two different dynamics of the spirit. Today our youngsters find much competition and few persons whom they can confront. The adult world has received “eternal youth” as paradigm and model of success. It seems that to grow, to get old, to “mature” is an evil. It is synonym of a frustrated or exhausted life. Today it seems that everything is masked or dissimulated. As if the very fact of living has no meaning. Appearance, not growing old, wearing makeup . . . I am sad when I see those who dye their hair.

How sad it is that some want to engage in “lifting” the heart! And today they word ‘lifting” is used more than the word “heart”! How painful it is that some want to do away with the “wrinkles” of many encounters, of many joys and sorrows! There comes to mind when the great Anna Magnani was advised to have a <face lift>, she said: “No, these wrinkles cost me my whole life: they are precious!”

In a certain sense, this is one of the most dangerous “unconscious” threats in the education of our adolescents: to exclude them from the growth processes because the adults occupy their place. And we find so many adolescent parents, so many adults who do not want to be adults and want to play at being adolescent forever. This “marginalization” can increase a natural tendency that youngsters have to isolate themselves or to halt their growth processes because of a lack of confrontation. There is competition, but not confrontation.

  1. Spiritual “gluttony”

I do no want to end without this aspect, which could be a key-argument that goes through all the laboratories you will have: it is transversal. It is the subject of austerity. We live in a very strong context of consumerism . . . And doing a connection between consumerism and what I have just said: after food, medicines and clothes, which are essential for life, the highest expenses are beauty products, cosmetics. These are the statistics! Cosmetics. It is awful to say this. And cosmetics, which were something more of women, now are the same for both sexes. After the basic expenses, the first is cosmetics and then, mascots [animals for company]: food, veterinary . . . these are the statistics. But this <issue> of mascots is another argument, which I will not touch upon now: we will think of this further on. But we return to the topic of austerity. We live, I said, in a very strong context of consumerism; it seems that we are driven to consummate consumption, in the sense that, what is important is to consume always. <There was> a time when it was said that persons who had this problem had a dependence on spending. Today it is no longer said: we are all in this rhythm of consumerism. Therefore, it is urgent to recover that spiritual principle which is so important and devalued: austerity. We have entered a chasm of consumption and we are induced to believe that we are worth for what we are capable of producing and consuming; for as much as we are capable of having. To educate to austerity is an incomparable richness. It reawakens ingenuity and creativity, it generates possibilities for the imagination and it opens especially to teamwork, in solidarity. It opens to others. There is a sort of “spiritual gluttony,” that attitude of gluttons that, instead of eating, devour everything that is around them (they seem to cram themselves eating).

I believe that it does us good to be educated better, as a family, in this “gluttony” and to make room for austerity as the way of encountering one another, of throwing bridges, opening spaces, growing with others and for others. Only one who is able to be austere can do this, otherwise he is simply a “glutton.”

In Amoris Laetitia, I said: “The history of a family is dotted by crises of all sorts, which are also part of their dramatic beauty. It is necessary to help discover that a surmounted crisis does not lead to a less intense relationship, but to improve, to settle and to mature the wine of union. One does not live together to be always less happy, but to learn to be happy in a new way, stemming from the possibilities opened by a new stage” (n. 232). It seems to me that it is important to live the education of children from this perspective: as a call that the Lord makes to us, as family, to make of this passage a passage of growth, to learn to savour better the life He gives us.

This is what it seemed to me I should say to you on this topic.

(Cardinal Vallini’s words of gratitude)

 [Blessing]

Thank you so much! Work well. I wish you the best. And onwards!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester][1] “For young people the future is long and the past brief; in fact, at the start of the morning,, there is nothing of the day that can be remembered, while everything can be hoped for. They can easily let themselves be deceived, for the reason we said, namely, because they hope easily. And they are more courageous, because they are impetuous and easy in hoping, and of these two qualities the first impedes their being afraid, and the second makes them confident; in fact no one fears when one is angry, and to hope for some good gives confidence. And they are <prone to anger>” (Aristotle, Rhetoric, II, 12, 2)



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