Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Look at the Agora Meeting

Benedict XVI in Loreto
A Look at the Agora Meeting

ROME, SEPT. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org) - Here is an overview of the Italian bishops' three-year plan to give special emphasis to youth ministry, titled the Agora of Italian Youth. The plan's program for this year is highlighted by Benedict XVI's meeting with youth taking place today and Sunday in Loreto, Italy.

The texts, including two interviews, are provided by the Fides news agency.

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Interview with Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, head of National Service for Youth Pastoral Ministry at the Italian bishops conference.

Q: Monsignor Giulietti, with what objectives did the March 2006 session of the bishops' standing council approve the proposal for a national path of special attention for the world of youth articulated in three years: the Agora of young Italians?

Monsignor Giulietti: The objectives were many within the framework of renewed attention on the part of the Catholic community for the world of youth. The bishops defined young people a "pastoral priority" and the "Agora dei giovani italiani" intends to concretize this statement.

Hopefully it will lead to greater educational effort on the part of the community, serious efforts to invest in human and material resources to offer young people space for more participation in Church life and new missionary impulse with the involvement of the young people themselves.

Q: The Agora at Loreto is also dedicated to the theme of creation. What is the best way to educate young people to respect creation and nature?

Monsignor Giulietti: It is important on the one hand to intensify knowledge and motivation, anchoring attention for nature to a sound Christian vision of the relationship between man and creation; on the other hand it is decisive to offer young people the proposal of realistic and practical actions in day to day living -- small individual and community actions that can improve the present situation and generate hope for the future. It is important to realize that we are all responsible for creation, we must not wait for someone else to solve the problem for us.

Q: Benedict XVI has confirmed his presence at Loreto. After the World Youth Day in Cologne this is the second major event he dedicates to young people. What do they expect from the meeting with the Holy Father? In your opinion why did the Pope accept to insert the meeting in Loreto among his appointments?

Monsignor Giulietti: The Pope -- as he said on June 17 in Assisi -- is anxious to be with young people, dialogue with them, propose the "great yes" of the Christian faith as the answer to their longing for a truly human life. He has confidence in the new generations and entrusts them with the mission to carry the Gospel to their peers.

For us the Pope's presence in Loreto almost puts a seal on this three-year path, to which he will make a fundamental contribution in contents and motivation. In particular, the meeting with the Holy Father will be the celebration of a year devoted to listening and will open the year devoted to proclamation in interpersonal relations.

Q: Mission is an integral part of the life of faith. It is possible in your opinion that young people today still sense the urgency to communicate the Gospel of Christ to their peers? How can we kindle in young people a desire for mission?

Monsignor Giulietti: Mission is not something to do, it is more a way of being: Communicating with word and deed the beauty, the greatness of the experience of an encounter with Christ who makes life new. It is possible to kindle missionary impulse if we help young people to view their ordinary life with new eyes and to live it in an "extraordinary" manner. Naturally it is necessary to rethink the words and ways to speak of this at work, at school, at leisure time … for witness to be effective. The problem of little missionary spirit is due too often to dis-incarnated formation and spirituality.

Q: The Church often organizes meetings and appointments but there is little real faith life in our country especially among young people. In your opinion are these great rallies helpful for the faith of young people or not?

Monsignor Giulietti: To say there is little real faith life in the country would appear to me to be a generic statement: We have many young people who live their Christian faith with consistence. Some experienced the decisive moment in their journey of faith precisely at one of these great gatherings. I do not think we can say these great events are of no use; instead we must say that there is a right way and a wrong way to approach them. If well prepared, young people who take part can benefit greatly; if left to improvisation, participation can be disappointing. The event is an opportunity, a channel, and it is up to us to use it well."

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Interview with Monsignor Mauro Parmeggiani, prelate secretary of the Vicariate of Rome and director of the Diocesan Service of Youth Pastoral Ministry.

Q: Benedict XVI has confirmed his presence at Loreto. After the WYD in Cologne this is the second major event he dedicates to young people. What do the young people of Rome diocese expect from the meeting with the Holy Father? In your opinion why did the Pope accept to insert the Meeting in Loreto among his appointments?

Monsignor Parmeggiani: Actually since the World Youth Day in Cologne the Pope has had other meetings with young people, for example recently in Assisi and Vigevano, and -- in greater numbers -- in Brazil -- and before that in Krakow. I am thinking of his annual meetings in Rome with the young people of his diocese on the Thursday before Palm Sunday.

Certainly the meeting in Loreto will be an important national happening for young people with the Pope. The young people of the diocese of Rome are anxious to listen to Benedict XVI, knowing that he listens to them seriously. Our young Romans have already seen how the Pope is anxious to listen to them. They realized this when he agreed to answer questions off the cuff on various issues on life in their meeting with him in 2006 and then this year when the listening was more intimate and even sacramental when Benedict XVI, like all the priests present at the Roman appointment for WYD, entered the confessional and heard the confessions of six young people.

I think that in Loreto, too, the Pope will want to listen to the young people and speak to them in the name of the One whom he represents and of this responsibility he is deeply aware. The young people are aware that the Pope knows them and he knows the world in which they live, the relativistic, secularized and de-Christianized culture in which they are submerged, their family and affective difficulties, often much greater than one would imagine.

Certainly Benedict XVI appears to be reserved and shy … but as his secretary said recently in an interview published in one of our national dailies, his shyness, rather than a mark of his character, is due to a keen awareness that the Pope represents Christ and it is to him that he must give way.

I think therefore that our young people expect the Pope to help them solve their difficulties. This will not be a meeting of superficial youth, celebrating without contents, instead it will give interesting answers for life which broaden the scope of reason to make way for Christ to enter, which propose Christ as God's magnificent "yes" to all men and women and to all the young men and women of today.

I think the meeting will be transformed into supplication, praise and prayer to the God whom the Pope will announce. I have the impression that Benedict XVI is most selective in his choice of appointments. If he has called the young people to Loreto it is to let them know that they are not alone as they strive to live their faith and to be disciples of Christ today, that the Church for them is a "trustworthy companion" in which to pronounce their yes for life, to Christ and to neighbor, and to spur them on to be together credible witness of Love."

Q: Mission is an integral part of the life of faith. It is possible in your opinion that young people today still sense the urgency to communicate the Gospel of Christ to their peers? How can we kindle in young people a desire for mission?

Monsignor Parmeggiani: Certainly. They may have doubts as to how to propose the Gospel, but they -- perhaps more than adults -- realize that as John Paul II said, faith is strengthened when it is given to others.

Through the grace of God I see every year in Rome many young members of groups, movements, parishes preparing for youth Mission at the School for Evangelization, organized by the Diocesan Youth Pastoral Service in view of our youth mission called "Jesus at the Center" now in its 4th annual edition and which will take place in Rome's city center from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7 this year.

Actually I believe that young people, more than adults, sense the urgency of mission and they desire an extroverted faith which spreads to their friends, their environments, starting with the school, leisure places, sport, university … And it is good to see how these young people, regarded by certain over-clerical lay adults or even priests at first with some diffidence, succeed in converting even the latter to mission.

Basically the truth, a sense of life, beauty, happiness is never lacking in the heart of a young person including the young person of today. This desire -- we have been told many times by John Paul II and now by Benedict XVI -- has a name: Jesus Christ, his mercy, his love. Young people need love and "Deus caritas est," God is Love!

And if we help them encounter this love by being close to them, listening, explaining the word of God, administrating of the sacraments well celebrated, if we are witnesses of charity, of life, if we are adults consistent with their decisions -- even though poor sinners -- and faithful to the love of Christ who came to encounter them and captivate them, then they too will feel impelled to witness, to be missionaries because love spreads, it cannot be kept for one's self, it demands by nature to be shared with everyone, through the power of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us -- as Benedict XVI writes in his message to the young people of the world in view of the next World Youth Day in Sydney -- "to the ends of the earth!"

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Agora of young Italians: three years of work

It all began during the March 2006 session of the Italian bishops' conference standing council, which approved a proposal of a national path of special attention for the world of youth articulated in three years: the Agora of young Italians. A committee was set up to support youth initiatives and Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, former secretary of the conference, was appointed president.

The objective of the Agora of young Italians is to foster the realization of this path giving new impulse to youth pastoral ministry, greater participation of the new generations in the Church's missionary activity and involvement in the path of the Church in Italy. The value of missionary activity is the fundamental dimension of the life and action of Christians, individuals and communities.

Year 1

The first pastoral year 2006-2007 was devoted to listening to the world of youth. This is the first dimension of mission; the aim is in fact to carry the Church (communities, young people, priests, pastoral workers) out of their own spaces in order to build new relations with young people on the terrain of hope, sought after and lived in the ambits of daily life, using the interpretations, analysis and proposals suggested at the 4th Church Meeting in Verona: affective relations; experience of fragility; commitment for citizenship; study/work dynamic -- celebration; relations with other generations. The first year was oriented to the national meeting in Loreto, which follows on the Verona Meeting, which gave decisive impulse (motivations and contents) to what remains to be done.

The theme "As I Have Loved You," connects the Church's becoming encounter with young people to the mystery of God becoming an encounter for humanity in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Truth guides our listening, revealing the presence of Christ in the midst of our young people and leading the Church to "discern what is 'true' present in the guise of what is 'new.'"

Year 2

The pastoral year 2007-2008, will be devoted to the interpersonal dimension of evangelization. The objective is to continue the extrovert dynamic of year one, at the level of witness in daily life and with special initiatives of mission. The central event of year two is World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney: an opportunity for young people to deepen their sense of the mission mandate for their Christian life, in an extremely stimulating cultural and social context. Physical or "virtual," participation at the event in Sydney is therefore an important passage for those involved in the three year journey.

The theme, "You Will Be My Witnesses," shows that mission is part of the Christian identity of individuals and communities called to narrate the joyous experience of the encounter with the risen Lord. Mission is lived not as "proselytizing, which wants to 'capture' young people, but as a joyous communication of the beauty of a discovery which one feels compelled to share."

Year 3

The third pastoral year 2008-2009 will be devoted to the cultural and social dimension of evangelization. The objective is to pursue the extrovert dynamic treating the questions of Christian witness (personal, but above all as a community) exercised on frontiers of major cultural and social issues. The itinerary will conclude with an event lived simultaneously in every diocese in Italy, in the squares or diocesan shrines or some of the "new shrines" of our times such as, for example, shopping malls, railway stations, cinemas, sports grounds and places of marginalization.

The theme "To the Ends of the Earth," underlines the necessity for the Gospel to be proclaimed in the languages and cultures of young people today often very distant from those of the previous generations.

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First Lap: Loreto, Sept. 1- 2

"Loreto 2007" will be the first of three great gatherings in the three-year path of the "Agora of Young Italians." On Sept. 1 - 2, thousands of young people from all over Italy and delegations from European and Mediterranean countries will meet at the Marian Shrine for a great festival with the participation of Benedict XVI.

The appointment in September is a key moment for year one with the theme "As I Have Loved You," which includes the post-Verona journey and gives decisive impulse (motivation and content) to what remains to be done.

The Loreto event involves not only the organizers and participants but also the local Catholics: In the days preceding the event (Aug. 29-31) the young guests will stay with families in 32 dioceses in the regions of Marche, Umbria, Emilia Romagna and Abruzzo and take part in days of reflection and sharing, bringing the voice of the world of youth to the local Catholic communities and the civil realities.

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Loreto Program:

-- Hosting days (Aug. 29-31). In the 32 dioceses of Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo the young people will meet to discuss and share their journey. The days will be characterized by consolidated dynamics (hosting families, festive events, and getting to know the local people and the territory …), as well as initiatives connected with the theme of year one of the Agora of young Italians.

-- National meeting (Sept. 1-2). Saturday, Sept. 1, pilgrimage to Loreto: Groups will make their way on foot to Montorso Plain. The pilgrimage will be animated as a path of faith. Then there will be the embrace with Benedict XVI, reflection, celebration … Sunday, Sept. 2, a day of prayer and the culminating celebration of the Eucharist at the end of which the Pope will entrust the young people with the Mission Mandate.

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The voices of some 800 delegates to Loreto

About 800 young delegates representing 50 countries of Europe and the Mediterranean will join their Italian peers for the meeting with Benedict XVI in Loreto from Sept. 1 to 2.

In the Montorso Valley, which will host the event, will fly the flags of England, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lebanon, Moldavia, Holland, Austria, Switzerland. The most numerous delegations will include: 100 young people from Poland (including 50 from Krakow) 50 each from France and Spain, and 25 each from Croatia, Hungary, Greece, Russian, Portugal, Slovenia.

Although less numerous but just as enthusiastic, smaller groups of young people will be coming from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Palestinian Territories, Israel and Turkey. Ukraine will send representatives of Latin and Greek Catholic rite and the Libyan delegation will comprise three Iraqis, two Filipinos and one Egyptian. There will be young people from Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Cyprus and Malta who will be guests of the diocese San Marino-Montefeltro. The diocese of Ancona-Osimo will be twinned with Romania, Montenegro and Krakow, and that of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia with Croatia and Albania. The diocese of Foligno with Belgium, Imola with Scotland, Teramo-Atri with Australia, which will offer hospitality on the occasion of the 23rd Word Youth Day in Sydney2008.

"The presence of foreign delegations," the organizers explain, "is a call to share experiences and an opportunity to build relationships to last after Loreto." And this is the spirit of the young delegates.

"For me to participate in this event," said Dalia from Lithuania, "means celebrating, sharing with young Italians the joy of belonging to the same family of believers, expressing the youthful enthusiasm of being Christians, drawing courage to continue to be His apostles among my peers."

Armantos from Cyprus says the same: "I will carry to the young people of Cyprus the message that there are many like us, different in color and nationality, but similar in way of life and thought, and with an extraordinary spirituality for our times."

"In Greece," said Maria, "as a minority, young Catholics have little occasion for sharing and expression and the ecumenical path is still long, but I hope this great event will fill everyone with the desire to be true witnesses in deed and in faith."

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Photo Exhibition -- John Paul II and Benedict XVI

The inauguration of the Photograph Exhibition "John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Young People, Creation, Marian devotion" at the Church of Santo Stefano at Carisolo, marked the beginning of the "5th Youth Pilgrimage to the Cross of Adamello." In view of "Loreto 2007," in memory of John Paul II, the young people made a pilgrimage to the spot where, during the Jubilee Year 2000, a cross was planted dedicated to the late Holy Father, where young people go on regular pilgrimages.

"The initiative," the organizers explained, "calls attention to the permanent educational and spiritual value of the mountains and looks towards the appointments in Loreto (September 2007) and Sydney (July 2008), where Pope Benedict XVI expects to see the boys and girls of Italy, Europe, the world."

This year the project promoted in collaboration with the autonomous province of Trent, assumes special importance with the participation of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who will meet young Agora participants and young people of the region of Trent. The pilgrimage represents the highlight of three days of formation, which completes training for volunteer group leaders who will offer their services at Loreto. Reflection will focus in the organization of major events and the importance of voluntary work on these occasions, but also on Creation and the figure of John Paul II.

On July 5, the exhibition was opened by Archbishop Giuseppe Betori, the Italian bishops' conference secretary-general, Archbishop Luigi Bressan of Trent, Dr. Vincenzo Grienti of the bishops' conference national office for communications, Professor Tiziano Salvaterra, assessor for education and youth policies of the autonomous province of Trent, and Proffesor Giovanni Morello, who organized the exhibition.

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Sydney 2008

The meeting in Loreto anticipates that of World Youth Day in Sydney Australia 2008. "And now, as the living presence of the risen Christ in our midst nourishes our faith and hope," Benedict XVI said before leading the recitation of the Angelus with one million young people at Marienfeld in Cologne on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005, "I am pleased to announce that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. We entrust to the maternal guidance of Mary Most Holy, the future course of the young people of the whole world. Let us now recite the Angelus."

Sydney will host from July 15 - 20, 2008, thousands of young people from all over the world including young Italians for whom Sidney 2008 will be the second lap of the pastoral journey of the Youth Agora.

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Events 2009

The pastoral year 2008-2009 is dedicated to the cultural and social dimension of evangelization and the theme "To the Ends of the Earth" stresses the necessity to proclaim the Gospel in the languages and cultures of the young people of today, often very distant from those of previous generations.

The objective is to continue the extrovert dynamism proposed in the first two years, treating especially the question of Christian witness (personal, but above all community) exercised on the frontiers of great cultural and social issues.

The itinerary of the Agora will conclude with an event lived simultaneously in every Italian diocese in the squares or diocesan shrines or some "new shrine" of our times such as, for example, shopping malls, railway stations, cinemas, sports grounds and places of marginalization.

[Text adapted]

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