Church in Italy studies ways to provide youth programs during pandemic

A swimmer smiles for the camera at a 2016 national competition organized by the Italian Sports Center. The Catholic association has been redesigning the way kids can get together, play and compete in a way that continues to respect ongoing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center is one of many groups with which the Italian bishops are collaborating to make sure children have something to do this summer. (CNS photo/courtesy Italian Sports Center)

ROME (CNS) -- With summer not too far off, the Italian bishops' conference was looking for ways the church could still provide sorely needed activities, care and programs for children and adolescents, whose options will likely still be limited, given the slow easing of restrictions to prevent a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

Families have had to juggle work commitments and unexpected events with full-time child care since schools and day care centers were closed March 4; many Italian families usually rely on help from older relatives, but they will likely still be discouraged from having close contact with others.

"The care of children and adolescents cannot only rest on the shoulders of families, which is why it will be important to send a strong message to dioceses to get ready for a summer for youth that is possible" given their resources and respecting the evolving government mandates, said the proposal released April 29.

With the cancellation or uncertainty of sponsored trips, camps, sports programs and other youth-group activities that normally keep kids occupied over Italy's long summer break, the bishops' national office for the pastoral care of young people released a proposed plan of action.

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The church is not closed, especially over the holidays, and "it will not abandon kids to be left on their own," the bishops' office said. "It asks its clergy and educators to renew their commitment to taking care of others and accompaniment, especially now."

The aim is to help parishes and Catholic organizations be ready for whatever unfolds this summer so that, in dialogue with local authorities, they could offer plenty of summer activities that can be adapted in line with the gradual changes in local, regional and national restrictions.

Titled, "Open for the holidays," the proposal was to be fleshed out in greater detail over the month of May. It was being shared with all the country's bishops, the government ministry of equal opportunity, and the many associations, oratories and religious orders that collaborate with the bishops' youth programs.

One nationwide Catholic association that is part of the plan of action is the Italian Sports Center, which promotes 120 different sports and has 1.3 million members, including more than 500,000 young people and thousands of differently abled athletes.

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The center's president, Vittorio Bosio, told Catholic News Service by phone from Bergamo May 1, that all programs had to shut down at the end of February when the epidemic started engulfing northern Italy.

"I am 68 years old and if I am sick of (being indoors), imagine kids that are 10 or 15 years old," he said.

The national association and local groups immediately sprang into action to find ways to adapt to their immediate circumstances and to plan for an uncertain future, he said.

Groups kept in touch with their members and organized many online events, including workshops, multiplayer soccer tournaments playing FIFA online and even holding a livestreamed rhythmic gymnastics meet. Some 450 kids performed their routines from their apartment rooftop, courtyard or lawn before a panel of judges, he said.

As restrictions were set to ease and small-group athletic activities outdoors were expected to be permitted in late May, Bosio said programs have already redesigned the way sports such as volleyball, basketball and soccer could be played with few players and with the necessary social distancing.

Coaches, trainers and other adults, he said, are focused on showing kids that it is always possible to "live with joy, happiness and with others. It won't be easy at first psychologically because of needing to keep a distance and wear masks," he said.

But the groups are committed to continue promoting sports activities since "they will have such an important part to play in kids' lives, especially little kids," as the nation keeps adapting to living with the coronavirus.

"We are working hard to offer hope. Our aim is to instill confidence, and we can still do what we did before when it comes to being there for people and fostering friendships," he said.

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