Due to the pandemic in 2020, last year’s Youth toward Assisi event for young Italians could not take place in the traditional way. Instead, the event was replaced with a special online edition. This year, while taking all precautions, the 41st Youth towards Assisi event took place in Assisi and attracted about 250 young participants from all over Italy. There were far fewer participants this year than in pre-pandemic years. The theme of this year’s event was centered on our relationship with creation, and was further developed by examining St. Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun and Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si ‘.
Here is the testimony of a young woman who spoke about the experience of young people who were participating in the event for the first time.

 From October 28 to November 1, 2021, the forty-first edition of Youth toward Assisi took place in the city of Assisi. After two long and difficult years, the young people finally had a chance to meet again and see each other face to face. Once again, the “gaze” [of the Lord] became the cause and center of everything. First-time participants at Youth toward Assisi find that the experience leaves an impression on their hearts and minds. Newcomers to this national meeting are struck most of all by the friendly gazes they get from those present, from friars, nuns, and young people. Their gazes are accompanied by contagious smiles, smiles that challenge the newcomers, that make them feel important, and remind them of God’s presence.

The gaze was the starting point for this year’s Youth toward Assisi. It is the gaze that Jesus directed at Zacchaeus. That gaze was the theme of the event’s Lectio divina exercise led by Friar Gianni CAPPELLETTO, held on Friday, October 29. It is also the gaze that the Crucifix of San Damiano directs at St. Francis. That gaze was the theme of the opening prayer vigil for the event. For Zacchaeus and Francis, everything got started by means of a loving gaze. In a certain sense, the same thing happens for the Youth toward Assisi participants. Young people are invited to adopt a new perspective with regard to four relationships in their daily lives, namely, their relationship with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters and with creation.

The concept of creation played a leading role in the event; in fact, the title of this 41st edition was taken from a small fragment of St. Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun: “Cum tucte le tua creature”  [with all Your creatures]. In every gift, Francis was able to see the Giver; he could see the love of the Lord in every creature. He could see it in what gave him warmth, in what lit his path, in what quenched his thirst and in what refreshed him. We are all invited to do the same: to appreciate what has been given to us and to take care of it, to have this same gaze of grace and love towards what we have around us, especially towards our brothers and sisters, focusing on new lifestyles that have the good of all people at heart.

Once again, this year’s annual meeting impressed everyone. The young people listened, prayed, and discussed a present-day topic that is close to their hearts. In fact, at the same time, the world leaders at the G20 meeting in Rome were debating the same issues.

Many took the opportunity to speak with a friar or a nun. All were searching and attentive. It was as though the distance and absence imposed on the participants during the last two years was cancelled or forgotten for a moment. This year’s event was certainly different from past events. There were fewer participants this year and fewer opportunities for conversation, but it was still a time of grace. The 41st Youth Towards Assisi meeting concluded with some important words from the Minister General, Friar Carlos TROVARELLI. Friar Carlos invited the young people to be in the world, to establish meaningful relationships, to let themselves be loved by God and to love each other according to His heart.

Now it is up to the young people to turn around, to redirect their gaze and to bring a new light into the world. Participants at Youth toward Assisi listen, share, pray, meet hundreds of people and then meet the One, which sometimes changes their life forever.

Rebecca NOGARA