In the testimony of the Vice-Director of the Italian news station Tg5, the surprise of a wave of young people who “invaded” Rome for a last homage to the Pope who set into motion again their original needs and evidences
by Alessandro Banfi
The barbarians have descended upon Rome with their videophones in hand, chewing gum and wearing colored hats and backpacks. They don’t talk–they hardly know how to express themselves. The society of consumerism and images has rendered them almost aphasic. In front of the cameras, if asked an opinion, they only repeat the slogans of the media. The Pope is a very important figure, a great man, a true friend of young people… If asked the reasons for the slogans, they take refuge in “it can’t be expressed,” or “what I feel can’t be put into words.” They spend hours in line, only to take a cell-phone photo of a body, the image of which is at the moment the most reproduced in newspapers, on TV, and on the Internet… Truly, before them the verses of Pier Paolo Pasolini come to mind:
Oh, unfortunate generation
You will cry, but with lifeless tears
Because perhaps you will not even know how to go again
To what, never having possessed, you have not even lost.
Youth who, during the days of homage to the body of John Paul II in Saint Peter’s, never broke out of repeated formulas, a generation dispossessed of language, tradition, maybe even thought…
Without Christ after Christ
And yet this way of seeing things, even though it is precise and true, runs the risk of not enabling deep-down understanding, of becoming in turn a rigid framework, a post ideological ideology. Looking carefully at many of these kids, trying to understand those who came to stand in the lines in Rome–certainly not like at a funeral, but rather a concert, a gathering, or a rave party–you’re just amazed. These kids in line aren’t the generation to which Pasolini alluded, but the children of this generation. The first truly “without Christ after Christ.” And in the face of this, it’s a mistake to draw back–it’s neither realistic nor human. What’s human is to look at them, to care about them, and to love them.
The barbarians of prosperity and religious indifference. It’s true; they communicate almost wordlessly, but with gestures, clothes, cell-phone messages, and music. No one has taught them words. No one has shown them any other beauty. Just like the barbarians.
However, they’ve been reached by a powerful announcement of something other, struck at least by the presentiment of an other kind of happiness, of a totally other Presence. These young people, so deprived of profundity as to be aphasic, were nonetheless taken seriously by someone who, old and tired but strong and, yes, also “a media man,” did not fear using their language, and gave credence to their truest needs. He reawakened in them a glimmer of consciousness of destiny, and cried out to them that life is Jesus Christ. What have they understood? What have they retained? What do they live, or will they live, of that message? We don’t know, and to ask ourselves in these hours sounds like a false claim by those who possess something: us, the Catholics who know everything. It seems almost rancorous, as if to say, “Wait a minute! Hey! Where are these wild things when we have our meetings, our Masses, and our catechism lessons?”
The annunciation of a living fact
There is a way of criticizing the wildness of the millions of young people who invaded Rome that is an accusation of them, or of Pope Wojtyla as too mass-media oriented. These are criticisms that truly risk casting doubt upon the power of Grace and God’s lordship over history.
It is paganism, certainly, the paganism of 2005. But the question elicited by their presence nonetheless remains. As in the beginning, since the Church exists by the Grace of God, she must get used to converting them, caring more about the annunciation of the Christian fact, the roots of Christian hope, the person of Jesus Christ, than about the preservation of rituals or the coherence of the believers.
Perhaps the barbarians are boorish and primitive, no matter how technological they may be (their messages are expressed in a vocabulary of 50 words, max); they don’t know tradition or beauty, and they don’t even have the words to say what they feel. They have irrational, barbarian rites like the photographs they take, the mass-media events they live, and the stadium choruses they produce. But their original needs and evidences have been put into motion, for a moment at least, by John Paul II. Maybe they are ready for a new evangelization that doesn’t bring them a morality devoid of fascination, but the annunciation of a living and present fact that is attractive.
Let’s say it without bragging: we’re not afraid of them.