Blog by Chiara Dell’Orfanello
For a year now, the lives of each of us have been devastated by the pandemic, and who could have thought that one of its consequences would have been an unprecedented increase in young believers. Recent studies by the University of Columbia indicate a divide between generations: on the one hand the Millennials, most of whom still do not identify with any faith and on the other Gen. Z who, during this period of crisis, reflected on their belief, getting closer and closer to religion. This juxtaposition is not entirely a revival of traditional values and customs, but a rediscovery of a sense of belonging that is not manifested only in worship, but which instead highlights the importance given by young people in applying theological teachings more than in merely hearing them recited.
Young people who spontaneously approach religion, what are they looking for if not a deeper awareness of themselves? Today we hear about mindfulness, a state of inner well-being that helps to live the present in a non-judgmental way; a practice taken from meditation techniques deriving from those used in Buddhism and which is rapidly spreading among the new generations. Interviewing Annalucia Accardo, a Buddhist follower of Thich Nat Hanh’s philosophy, I learned that the concern for the shortage of young people in Buddhism “is not felt, on the contrary [they] multiply”. The reason for adhering to this philosophical current arises from the fact that the religious precepts find immediate application in their daily life, thus acting as a guide and model in synderesis “without requiring any kind of affiliation”. Accardo, during our interview, underlined how in this time of pandemic the number of followers has increased, especially an international gathering of young people connected to an online platform to follow the courses of A.ME.CO, an organization born to witness and spread the Buddhist scriptures. This event expresses how strong the need for an interior search for profound values to cling to is felt by young people in this moment of crisis. Therefore, it seems to be the desire for reconciliation between spiritual life and everyday life that attracts young people; the discovery of one’s self put into practice with the application of sacred virtues in everyday life. Instead, the difficulty arises for young people who belong to religions less focused on the construction of a link connecting religious precepts to their inner spiritual world.
In one of his homilies, Pope Francis sought to address accusations that the Church talks rather than acts. He reminded the congregation in St. Peter’s Square of the importance of putting into action what is heard and preached. This message seems to have been strongly received by young people who, as Paolo Aminti Cattolico Camaldolese said in our interview, “want to do what is useful and want to do it together”. From our discussion it emerged that there is a great desire on the part of young people to participate in Caritas missions; a fact demonstrated by the success of his projects with the voluntary association LIBERA of Sesto Fiorentino: in particular the collection of parcels and distribution of food to the poor, sponsored by the Civilan Protection, which saw a very high response of young volunteers during the summer period. In the same way, speaking with Dea Santonico, representative of the Christian community of San Paolo, the importance of volunteering emerged not only for the greater involvement of young people in the church but as an instrument of education, transforming the place of worship firstly into a “safe harbour to grow” and onwards into a place to know and meet different cultures, putting into practice that solidarity preached by the Scriptures. Some programmes promoted by Santonico have had as their object the approach of the young people of its community to professors of different monotheistic religions, allowing them to discover their similarities and differences, thus giving the young people a greater knowledge of others and a window on values and different cultures, useful for their individual inner enrichment. Volunteering, in this way, broadens the perspectives of young people by creating a future religious community ready to welcome instead of emphasising differences.
The pandemic has shown us the religion of the future: a religious community made up of young people for young people who, using the web, allows them to interact freely. A space to ask questions, express doubts without feeling judged and where to find answers that come from the comparison of experiences lived by others, and which makes use of modern forms of communication in which they can identify, and which is disconnected from traditional precepts that are perceived as an obligation because they are often felt distant. In short: a religiosity closer to the spirit of the new generation.
Chiara is a year 12 (5th year) pupil at Sacred Heart High School, Hammersmith, London. She grew up in Rome. She recently undertook a 5-day internship with the St Andrew’s Foundation. She hopes to study theology at Cambridge and one day embark on a career in the diplomatic service.