I’ll bet you thought it was all over for the Church, didn’t you? Well it seems there’s a “New Fervor Among Young Italian Catholics”
“In 2003, Cristina Pavone, left her Dublin, Ireland, apartment, her boyfriend, and her steady job with Hertz Rent-a-Car, and went home to Italy to join a Franciscan order. Last summer, she took her final vows and became a cloistered nun.
Today, Sister Cristina, 31, lives with 179 other monks and nuns at a small red-brick monastery north of Rome. She reads, does chores, meets visitors, and prays five times daily, starting at 3 a.m.”
One can only wonder if this would have happened had she worked for Avis.
“I was far from God,” she says quietly, wrapping her hands around a hot mug in the monastery’s drafty dining hall. “I experimented with everything you can experiment with to find happiness. Now that I’ve left everything, I’ve found everything.”
Including a nasty cold, if she’s not careful about those drafts.
“She isn’t alone in her devotion. A small but burgeoning group of young Italians are turning to Catholicism with new fervor, suggesting a reversal of Catholicism’s decades-long decline in Italy.
Sister Cristina is one of 550 young Italian women who joined the country’s 7,500 cloistered nuns in 2005 – a dramatic increase from the 350 who became nuns in 2003. Vatican officials say the sudden rise in Italian monasticism mirrors a resurgence in Catholicism among young Italians during recent years.
There’s no recruitment to monasteries – each person enters for personal reasons. Some want to live with people who share their values; others are drawn by the structured worship that punctuates each day. The decision comes after much reflection, says Sister Ilaria Magli, who first considered becoming a nun as a teenager and took her final vows in 1997, at age 29″
Now, she scarcely sets foot outside the towering battlements of Monastero Santi Quattro in central Rome. Food is delivered, and the nuns remain behind gates and barred windows. Occasionally, they meet visitors, but only in a special room divided by a long table that separates them from their guests.
“There’s a culture of renunciation [to monastic life],” Sister Ilaria says, “but you choose something, too: happiness. It’s like falling in love – everything else vanishes from your senses.”
Citing drug use and materialism, she says young Italians’ misguided pursuit of happiness has led to a crisis of values. “All young people seek happiness,” she says. “Unfortunately, the world offers a happiness that ends quickly, like candy melting in your mouth.”
Well you’ve always got to watch what you put in your mouth. But as for drugs and materialism, one wonders of Sister Ilaria has seen Killer Nun starring Anita Eckberg as the drug-addicted and sapphically-tempted “Sister Gertrude,” with a supportig cast featuring both Lou Castel AND Joe Dallesandro.
“Vatican officials say young people’s thirst for moral direction is driving a resurging interest in Catholicism. “There’s a reawakening after a time of secularization,” says Sister Giuseppina Fragasso, vice president of the Vatican’s association for cloistered monks and nuns.
The number of Catholic clergy has dwindled worldwide since peaking in the late 1960s. In particular, it’s getting harder to attract new blood to the priesthood. According to the Vatican’s statistics office, monasteries have been closing too fast for their researchers to keep track. While other Christian sects attract priests by allowing them to marry and by inviting women to ordination, the Catholic church still prohibits such activities.
But the tide is turning in Italy. Nearly half of adult Catholics attend mass at least weekly, up from 35 percent who did so in 1980.”
That’s something my favorite nun Sister Mary Ignatius is quite upset about. But there’s good news for Sister Mary —
“Clergy credit much of young people’s interest in Catholicism to the late Pope John Paul II, stressing the impact of the World Youth Days he started in 1984. Catholic fervor reached a crescendo with his death in April 2005. “This pope really brought the faith closer to young people; there was a strong bond between him and us,” affirms Giovanna, a young biologist praying by John Paul II’s tomb in Rome.”
Nothing like a dead Pope to spruce things up.
“However, not all young Italians are so swept away by Catholicism. Even those who are draw limits on the role of religion in the public sphere.
While the church wields enormous moral power – in June 2005, it successfully lobbied Italians to boycott, and thus invalidate, a referendum on embryo research, artificial insemination, and egg and sperm donation – Italians remain strongly against its involvement in politics. A December 2005 poll found 41.5 percent of Italians are totally against church influence in politics.”
Hmm. I wonder how much of that 41.5 percent has read THISand abandoned their pursuit of God in favor of a pursuit of Anthony.
It’s also questionable whether the church has attracted many converts, says Franco Garelli, professor of social and political sciences at the University of Turin. Rather, he says, the church has mainly succeeded in impassioning young people already firm in their faith. “Ten to 20 percent [of the people attending World Youth Days] are not already Catholic, but the rest are.”
Brother Paolo Crivelli, who leads Sister Cristina’s Franciscan community, is skeptical of the World Youth Days’ showy religiosity, which he worries obscures the substance of faith. “[The young people] are more interested in feeling part of a group than in [Christianity’s] true message.”
Something that could be far more enjoyably accomplished through a visit to Burning Man.
But Sister Cristina and her fellow nun Sister Chiara del Ben point out that Jesus embraced large crowds in his ministry, and maintain that such inclusiveness is important. “A characteristic of our community is receiving visitors,” says Sister Chiara. “Many people open up when they feel themselves welcomed.” Brother Paolo concedes the point.
Many monasteries reach out to ordinary people, offering them the opportunity to pray, receive advice, or even share in the cloistered life for a few days. “They’re a visible sign … of taking the gospel seriously and letting it shape your life,” says Father Raymond Studzinski, a professor of religious studies at the Catholic University of America.
Increasingly, cloistered orders have their own websites and e-mail addresses, easing the transition to the monastic life but also helping to spread their message. Sister Ilaria fields daily e-mails requesting prayers, counsel, and organized visits to the monastery.
“Monasteries can be a beacon, a light for the community,” says Sister Ilaria. “One sees a great desire [among young people] to understand God.”
Or just a desire to do something festive — like the Nuns at Isabella
Rossellini’s old high school in Rome who held a series of special masses for her redemption after the release of Blue Velvet back in 1986
But when it comes to “spiritual awakening,” Randy Newman put it best:
“Cain slew Abel Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:
Man means nothing he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
‘Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be
That’s why I love mankind
I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind
The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, “Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won’t take care of us
Won’t you please, please let us be?”
And the Lord said
And the Lord said
I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That’s why I love mankind
You really need me
That’s why I love mankind”