ISOLA DEL GRAN SASSO, Italy (AP) — In small towns like this mountain one a couple of hours east of Rome, and all across Italy, life has changed over the last generation as the Catholic faith loses relevance in people’s routines and choices.
From cradle to casket — from buying contraceptives at the pharmacy to gathering for funeral wakes — the church and its teachings no longer drive daily rhythms. Local parishes have stopped functioning as the towns’ gathering spot, where families congregated each Sunday and youth found extracurricular activities from sports to music that schools rarely provided.
In interviews where they work and volunteer in Isola and nearby towns, villagers shared their experiences with a faith that’s still nominally embraced but rarely lived.
“I remember I spent my childhood in the parish, it was a way to meet. Youth today prefer different gathering spots,” said Assunta Cantalupo in the Sanctuary of San Gabriele dell’Addolorata where she volunteers. “Now even young parents are hard to engage. They bring kids to the doorway for catechism, but don’t cross it for Mass.”
“My generation is ‘I participate when I feel like it,’” added her husband, Antonino Di Odoardo. “For my son’s generation, there is a rejection in principle.”
“I’ve zero time,” said auto mechanic Francesco Del Papa, expressing a shared sentiment about little leisure time — and the desire to spend it elsewhere than in church. “I’m Catholic. My wife goes to church, I don’t.”
“From what I hear, it’s more a question of keeping up a tradition than of faith,” said Michela Vignola of her hair salon clients, who still mostly do church weddings. She estimates believers make up half her town’s population — including a majority who aren’t practicing.
“People no longer feel guilty about contraceptives,” said third-generation pharmacist Marta Orsini, even though they’re barred by the Catholic Church. She’s also noted depression growing rapidly, especially among the young. “Spirituality isn’t where they can find refuge, I think.”
“I’ve noticed a gap of more than a generation at Mass,” said elementary school teacher Marcello Ticchioni, who feels closest to his own faith when he goes on yearly pilgrimages to San Gabriele.
“Young people care about being together. You can talk about Jesus, but they only care if their friends are also there,” said the Rev. Francesco Di Feliciantonio, the priest in charge of youth ministry at the Sanctuary. Unless religion can be shown as relevant to their lives, “young people really have zero interest.”
“Everyone goes on a field trip to see the Pope, but the (local) priest is almost an alien,” said public school religion teacher Marco Palareti of his students.
The one exception comes last — at funerals, for which most want a Mass, said Antonio Ruggieri, a fifth-generation funeral home director. “Attendance has remained stable because there’s always this reverence for the dead, though we’ve added different rites for other religions, especially with immigrants.”
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