Where have all the faithful gone?
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in Italy, and Piazza Matteotti glistens in the sun shining high above the green Apennines. A light breeze wafts the aroma of cappuccino and espresso into the air. Locals sitting at the tables outside of the caffés talk quietly with one another. As the morning ticks on, slowly but surely older men and women begin to walk toward the great Cathedral Basilica for Mass.
The steady stream of older townspeople going to church on Sunday morning is a common scene in Cagli. The town, established at the end of the 13th century, reflects the strong Catholicism of its people, so much so that it boasts 16 churches and chapels.
The devotion of the people, however, has slowly changed over the years. This can be seen in diminished church attendance, particularly in the lack of regular attendance by young Cagliese. The town’s older people continue to worship, but the younger generation is less involved in church services and activities.
A man prays in the empty Cagli Basilica.
Photo by Molly Faber
In previous years, a wide range of ages attended church services on a regular basis. Priests used to make great efforts to bring young Cagliese to church. They created Mass with upbeat music and discussed topics that would be more important to younger people.
In addition, they created a local troop of Catholic scouts. The scouts, who are still active today, are youth dedicated to community service throughout Cagli. The organization, part of the national Catholic Scouts, advises young people to be active in their faith and religion. In fact, the scouts often attend religious functions and church services as a group to promote greater devotion.
Unfortunately, the determination of the priests and the interest and participation of the young people has faded. There is still a service on Sunday aimed at the young, filled with lots of upbeat music and more interesting topics, but the attendance is slim. Currently, the scouts are the only group trying to get young people in Cagli involved in religion and church services.
Maurizia Paglioncini, who attends Mass regularly, says the lack of young people at Mass is normal. Many younger children attend services every Sunday. Their parents often require them to go with as a family every week. However, once they are older many lose their devotion to the church. “Many young people are Catholic but don’t practice their religion anymore,” she says.
Of the young people who were raised Catholic but no longer practice, 21-year-old, Alessandro Nucci hasn’t been to church since he was 13. When he was younger, his family went to Mass together every Sunday. Yet, now that he is older, he has decided that he no longer wants to practice his religion, and he doesn’t feel any guilt. “I believe in God, but I don’t believe the Catholic church as an institution is good. There are too many things that have changed over the years, and it has changed my relationship with God,” he says.
The Catholic Church, as an institution, not the religion itself, is an overall point of departure for many younger Cagliese. Giampaolo Rebiscini, a 38-year-old bartender at the Squa-Qua restaurant has a problem with the Catholic Church. “I have my own spirituality and relationship with God. I don’t want the church to get involved with my own relationship. It’s a private relationship that the church has no right to be mixed in.” However, despite his spirituality, Rebiscini’s family continually criticizes him for not attending service every Sunday. “They believe it’s important to go to church to show respect, but church just gets in the way of my relationship with God,” he says.
Unlike Nucci and Rebiscini, Enrico Santi, 24, tries to attend church occasionally. He attended church services with his mother every Sunday when he was growing up. Now that he’s older, though, he doesn’t feel he needs to attend every week. Generally, he tries to attend Mass between two and three times a month. However, if he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t feel guilty. “It’s a personal choice to go to church or not. Nobody gets angry with someone if they don’t go to a service. It’s common for a lot of people just go sometimes. We get busy or a Saturday night happens…”
Religion is important to some of the young people in Cagli, but weekly attendance is not a priority. While the older generation’s strong religious faith continues to bring them to church regularly, the younger generation chooses not to. Young Cagliese do not view their limited attendance as a problem. Some prefer a private relationship with God, while others believe that attending church on a weekly basis shows a respectful, dutiful relationship with God. While older people view regular church attendance as a requirement, young people believe occasional attendance is fine. Only time will tell if the younger generation will return to attending Mass when they become older.
Video by Michele Flannery