“We all seek happiness. The problem is that often people resort to palliatives that foment unhappiness and lead to mortal addictions.” Chiara Amirante, founder and President of the Nuovi Orizzonti Communities (New Horizons), has recently published her latest book, “Il grido inascoltato. SOS giovani” (“Orizzonti di Luce” editions).
What is the situation after 30 years of support to the homeless on the streets? When I first began helping destitute people living on the streets I thought their greatest problems were drug-addiction, alcoholism, prostitution… To my surprise I realized that the evils afflicting young people are more deeply-rooted and often concealed beneath countless disguises. We are facing a veritable new world war fought in silence characterized by indifference. Various forms of addiction and malaise are increasing. Approximately 80% of all adolescents we meet, even those in schools of wealthy neighbourhoods, have at least one of the symptoms
Characterizing the new forms of poverty: use and abuse of drugs, alcohol, anorexia and bulimia, depression and behaviour disorders, internet addiction and gambling, victims of bullying, deep-rooted wounds in the emotional sphere, pornography and dangerous erotic chat lines, serious family problems.
Sex-addiction can have devastating consequences and is often underestimated. Figures show that 56 abortions are performed every year, one pregnancy every five. As many as 150 girls and 73 boys under 18 have allegedly been victims of sexual abuse during their childhood. Violence against women is spreading at a dramatic rate: one every three.
Who are those who don’t listen to the cries of young people, and why? Most people fail to listen to the cries of the young because every day, without realizing it, we feed on various poisons that pollute our behaviour: relativism prevents us from distinguishing good from evil; consumerism turns relationships into disposable commodities, inflicting excruciating wounds; hedonism makes us go from what is good to what is convenient to us; narcissism leads us to focus more and more on our appearance, fomenting deep-rooted self-centeredness and selfishness. We are all the products of the present times that we are not immune from. We need to open our eyes and decide to change. If not, we will continue fuelling this distress of which we are both the victims and the executioners.
Did you have a life-changing experience? I was lucky enough to grow up with the teachings of Chiara Lubich , which enabled me to develop a profound relationship with God. I have always sought something that would give deep meaning to life. I used to say to myself: “I have one life and I want to devote it to something great!” I was inspired by the words of the Gospel: “Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love […].I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15,9-12). It was an incredible discovery, a joy that withstood even life’s most challenging ordeals. The secret of joy is to love as Jesus has loved, concretely and forever! If you want to be happy you must start loving your neighbour!
What progress did Nuovi Orizzonti make over the past years? A few years after I started to attune to the cry of the young homeless people, they would come to me and say: “Chiara, bring us away from this hell on earth!” In March 1994, amidst the uttermost devotion to the Divine Providence, I set up the first Community where I started living with my new brothers and sisters, inviting them to try to live out the Gospel.
I saw thousands of youths come to new life after having gone through devastating experiences.
They immediately felt the urgent need to bear witness in the missions on the streets. Nuovi Orizzonti now counts on a team of 1.004 volunteer workers, 216 centres for reception, formation and guidance, 5 “Sky Citadels” under construction, some 500 thousands “Knights of the Light”.
Episodes of bullying and violence among the young are increasing, in many cases they lead to suicide. How do you explain it? There are a wide range of problems, of various kinds. The most evident ones are but the tip of the iceberg of deep-rooted, widespread difficulties that range from anorexia, alcoholism, drug-addiction, compulsive buying disorder. However,
unheard or unfulfilled needs, namely, the need to love and be loved in return, always underlie these issues.
We fail to listen to our innermost selves, the spiritual part that characterizes us and makes us unique. In fact the spiritual itinerary proposed by Nuovi Orizzonti is called: “The art of loving. Self-understanding and heart-healing.” This course t is grounded in the Gospel, for only He who is Love can teach us the true art of loving, for only He who “heals the brokenhearted” can bind up the deep wounds of the heart.
What are your expectations ahead of the Synod? We started from the “deserts”, from the most perilous areas, to reach out to the highest number of people, wherever they are: on the street, in schools, night-clubs, train stations, meeting places … beaches! Wherever we go we meet young people with a vacuum in their soul and in a state of bitter loneliness.
I expect the Synod to usher in authentic dialogue platforms between youths and the Church
And that we shall all listen to the unheard cries of so many people and take on their burden by giving the answers that Jesus has bequeathed to us in the Gospel.