Communion and Liberation bucks national trend

  • May 8, 2009
{mosimage}RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - It’s not exactly a typical Saturday night out for teens. But Gabriella Silano and 20 classmates and friends meet at St. Mary Immaculate Church in Richmond Hill every week to talk about faith.

Silano helped found the second Communion and Liberation youth group in Canada last year, also known as Gioventù Studentesca. A group that started out with three friends has now blossomed into 35 members, mostly from St. Theresa of Lisieux High School.

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement founded in 1954 by Fr. Luigi Giussani. It has since spread from Italy to 70 countries, including Canada.

It’s not a “cult,” Silano says with a laugh, but has become a real community of friends.

According to a new study, Silano and her friends are becoming an increasing rarity.

University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby reports that more Canadian teens are abandoning the Christian faith. In Bibby’s study called “Project Teen,” 32 per cent of those surveyed identified themselves as Roman Catholic compared to 50 per cent in 1984.

But for this group of teens, Silano says their faith remains strong. Many come to the meetings, the Grade 12 student said, because they are able to see how the Gospel and Catholic teachings fit into their everyday lives.

“It was clear to me for the first time that Christ was a reality,” said Silano, 17, before sharing a meal with the group after a meeting. “It was like He had something to do with my life. That He is the reason why I do everything in my life.”

When the students read from a book written by Communion and Liberation founder Giussani, teens take his message and apply it to their own lives. The discussion can range from coping with exams to having a crush on someone.

Its main purpose is to educate people about the Catholic Church’s mission and engage them in it. The movement believes that when Christianity is lived in communion, it becomes the foundation of the authentic liberation of humanity.

Members gather for weekly catechesis, prayer and reflections on Giussani’s writings.         

Today’s lesson is about hope.

“No matter what hard trials I go through, I’m certain (God) is here,” Silano said.

Paolo Palarma, 47, sits beaming during the meal of macaroni and sandwiches, visibly proud of how the group has come together. He supervises the weekly meetings and has been a member of the movement since he was a teenager in Italy.

It’s important to reach out to youth and help them see how Christianity applies concretely in their daily lives, he said. It also helps them discover the significance of community and its relationship to the life of the Catholic Church and the Eucharist.

For 17-year-old James Asser, hearing Palarma talk about Communion and Liberation made him want to learn more.

“I was moved not by what he said but how he said it. It’s something in his life that I wanted to have. I didn’t know yet what that was, but it was something that I needed,” said the captain of the school’s rugby team.

When school becomes difficult, Asser said he is able to go back to the teachings he’s learned at the meetings to “get through it.”

“I like it because it’s not fake. It’s not a philosophy or a morality,” he said. “It’s a real event.”

The spirit of community has now flowed over into the school. Some members of the group pray the Angelus and read Giusani’s writings before classes start.

Kassia Adams, 14, said it’s the sense of community that she enjoys about the group and how it’s helped change her life.

“I see things with more possibilities,” she said.

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