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I am delighted to meet you at the opening of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in which you are engaged in understanding and deepening – as the President has said – from different perspectives, in the “emerging youth cultures.” I cordially greet the President, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, and I thank him for his courteous words addressed to me on behalf of you all. I greet the Members, the Consultors and all Collaborators of the Dicastery, wishing you a fruitful work, which will provide a useful contribution to the action that the Church carries out towards the youth reality; a reality, as has been said, that is complex and that can no longer be understood within a homogeneous cultural universe, but needs to be understood within a horizon that can be defined as a “multiverse”, determined, that is, by a plurality of views, perspectives and strategies. Therefore, it is appropriate to speak of “youth cultures”, since the elements distinguishing and differentiating the cultural phenomena and areas outweigh those which, though present, are common to them. Several factors contribute to form a cultural landscape that is increasingly fragmented and in continuous, rapid evolution, to which the social media are certainly no strangers, these new communication tools that facilitate and sometimes themselves cause continuous and rapid changes in mentality, customs, behavior.
There is thus a widespread climate of instability affecting the cultural sphere, as well as the political and economic spheres – the latter marked also by the difficulties young people have in finding a job – that has an effect mainly on the psychological and relational level. The uncertainty and fragility that characterize so many young people, often push them to the margins, making them almost invisible and absent in the cultural and historical processes of societies. And with increasing frequency, fragility and marginality are resulting in drug addiction, deviance and violence. The affective and emotional sphere, the sphere of feelings, like that of the body, is strongly affected by this climate and by the consequent cultural environment, expressed, for example, by apparently contradictory phenomena, such as that which makes a spectacle of the intimate and personal lives of persons, and the individualistic and narcissistic closing in on one’s own needs and interests. The religious dimension, too, the experience of faith and one’s belonging to the Church are often lived from a privatistic and emotive perspective.
However, very positive phenomena are also present. The generous and courageous impulses of so many young volunteers who devote their best efforts to their neediest brethren; the experiences of sincere and deep faith of so many young boys and girls who joyfully bear witness to their belonging to the Church; the efforts carried out to build, in many parts of the world, societies able to respect the freedom and dignity of all, beginning with the smallest and weakest. All this comforts us and helps us to trace a more precise and objective picture of youth cultures. We cannot, therefore, content ourselves with reading the cultural youth phenomena according to the established paradigms, which by now have become commonplaces, or analyze them with methods that are no longer useful, starting from outdated and inadequate cultural categories.
We are ultimately faced with an extremely complex but fascinating reality, which must be understood thoroughly and loved with a great spirit of empathy, a reality whose bottom lines and developments we must know how to grasp attentively. Looking, for example, at the young people in many countries of the so-called “Third World”, we realize that they represent, with their cultures and their needs, a challenge to the global consumer society, to the culture of established privileges, enjoyed by a small portion of the population of the Western world. Youth cultures, as a result, become “emerging” in the sense that they exhibit a deep need, a call for help or even a “provocation”, which cannot be ignored or neglected, by either civil society or the ecclesial community. I have often expressed, for example, my concern and that of the whole Church for the so-called “educational emergency”, alongside which we should surely list the other “emergencies” affecting the different dimensions of the person and his fundamental relationships, and which cannot be answered in an evasive and trivial manner. I think, for example, of the growing difficulties in the field of work or of the effort to be faithful in one’s time in carrying out the responsibilities accepted. What would follow, for the future of the world and of all humanity, would be an impoverishment that is not only economic and social but also human and spiritual: if the youth no longer hoped and not longer made progress, if they were not to inject their energy into the historical dynamics, their vitality, their ability to anticipate the future, we would find ourselves as a humanity turned in on itself, lacking confidence and a positive outlook towards the future.
Although we are aware of the many problematic situations, which also affect the context of the faith and of belonging to the Church, we wish to renew our faith in young people, to reaffirm that the Church regards to their condition, their cultures, as an essential and unavoidable point of reference for its pastoral work. So I would return again to some significant passages of the Message that the Second Vatican Council addressed to young people, so that they may serve as grounds for reflection and inspiration for the new generations. First, in this Message, it was stated: “The Church looks to you with confidence and love … She possesses what constitutes the strength and the charm of youth, that is to say, the ability to rejoice with what is beginning, to give oneself unreservedly, to renew oneself and set out again for new conquests.” Then the Venerable Paul VI addressed this appeal to the youth of the world: “is in the name of this God and of his Son Jesus, that we exhort you to open your hearts to the dimensions of the world, to heed the appeal of your brothers, and to place your youthful energies at their service. Fight against all egoism. Refuse to give free course to the instincts of violence and hatred, which beget wars and all their sad train of miseries. Be generous, pure, respectful, sincere. And build in enthusiasm a better world than your elders had!”
I, too, wish to reaffirm this forcefully: the Church has confidence in young people, she hopes in them and in their energies, she needs them and their vitality, to continue to live with renewed enthusiasm the mission entrusted them by Christ. I very much hope, therefore, that the Year of Faith may be, also for the younger generation, a precious opportunity to rediscover and strengthen our friendship with Christ, from which to derive joy and enthusiasm to profoundly transform cultures and societies.
Dear friends, thanking you for the effort which you generously place at the service of the Church, and for the special attention you are giving to young people, I cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Peter Waymel]