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So I began to throw myself away

· Survey of adolescents who seek in sex an antidote to emptiness ·

“What do you think not committing impure acts means?”. “Might it mean not killing anyone, inside?” (a little girl in the third year of elementary school at catechism, Borgotrebbia).

I was invited to the Parish of Borgotrebbia on the outskirts of Piacenza on one of the Thursday evenings when Fr Pietro Cesena, the parish priest, gathers round him about 70 young men and women from the ages of 16 to 30 who live in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. The topic that has been discussed for several years now is the love between a man and a woman. The youth, almost all of whom lack a real family, asked me a series of pressing questions; they wanted to understand something of the cultural climate that induced their parents to break the family bond with such ease, careless of the destiny of loneliness to which they were condemning their child. They wanted to grasp the meaning of that utopia of happiness through sex – which is what we are accustomed to calling the “sexual revolution” – that had destroyed their families.

Because, and this suddenly became clear to me, if the end of their bond with their parents is hard to take for children in any condition, it is certainly far harder in poor families where there are no babysitters to make the absence of the parents less obvious and dramatic. The boys and girls in front of me had lived in inhospitable homes where there was almost never a meal ready waiting for them after school, where hour after hour there was no one to look after them. It was not a question of parents incapable of raising them, here there were absolutely no parents and in their every word and look the young people bore scars of this absence and of this harsh and difficult life.

Leslie Allen, “Best friends forever” (2012)

Following our meeting Fr Pietro continued with his task and asked them to write an answer to these questions: “Does your approach to sexuality conform to God’s will or rather to your own egotism? What, in your opinion, are the causes, events and injuries that lead you to live this way?”. The answers are moving and they all, as a whole, testify that sex as experienced by these young men and women, frequently precocious and indiscriminating, is born from their search for human contact, for someone who will accept and love them. It is a quest for a replacement of the family love they have been deprived of and proves every time to be a bitter disappointment that only exacerbates their loneliness. The girls were more articulate in expressing their need, they could explain in greater depth the motives that have led them to this way of life, while the boys told of the pressures of the outside world which all compete to focus their attention on sex, and of the ease in which pornography can be found on the internet. Yet in the end one understands that the desperation and loneliness are the same for both sexes.

One girl wrote: “No one has ever taught me what the Lord’s will is regarding sexuality; but I have always grown up with my own idea: I would lose my virginity with the one whom at that moment I felt was right, that at that moment I would make love not sex. Then the most important person in my life, my mother, left home. She preferred her own happiness to love for her children. From that moment I felt that no one loved me any more and I thought that no one would ever succeed in loving me again. For this very reason I acted selfishly and satisfied one of my pleasures. I went to bed with a friend of mine, there was no relationship of love between us, no feeling other than simple friendship. And I did it. Why?… I thought I’d throw myself away because I mattered to no one and so I tried to get a little love from that boy. I felt bad after the event, I went to pieces. Nevertheless I’ve done it again and again. At those moments you don’t reason, you don’t think about how you will feel afterwards, you don’t realize it is pointless. But you do it. You do it because you have before you the example of a mother who threw her life away…. And so what should I think? That one day I’ll manage to love? That one day I won’t suffer for love? That one day I’ll get to the point when I’ll be prepared to die for another? All that is in me now is so much fear, the fear of loving. For this very reason I err and behave selfishly”.

Equally lucid in her anguish is another girl who confessed how “in an instant my need for affection became a dependence”. She continued: “I was always told that I was a mistake. In addition to being an error I feel a horror, I am disgusted with myself, I cannot think of all the hands that have touched me. I don’t matter to anyone…. I know for certain that I never had a father, and my mother was a heedless concubine, she did not realize that in my drawer I had no dreams but a mountain of lacy pants”.

Yet another girl, in confessing her weakness, wrote: “unfortunately I know the causes only too well, because I have to face them every day; in other words my insecurity and my feeling of loneliness which prompt me to think that my deep longing to be loved can only be satisfied by the other sex”.

The separation of parents continues to be evoked as an incurable wound: “but having seen my parents’ marriage fail has destroyed all my hopes and dreams. The question that pursues me is: “if I become a parent will I do to my children the harm that was done to me?”.

Another girl recounts how by chance she was sucked into “the vortex of pornography. I call it filth too because it makes me ashamed and because after I have switched it all off, I find myself disgusting; and yet there are times when I relapse again and again. When I was studying it was laziness that conditioned me, today it is the sense of failure of my emotional life that drives me with greater force to what basically I would like the Lord to use to make me stop”.

“I have always said to myself: ‘everyone does it why shouldn’t I?’”, another girl writes, but “today, now that I have come back to the Church, after I have listened often to the word… well, I now know that I’m important, I know that my body is important”.

Their attendance at the parish meetings – where they feel accepted and loved – has marked a turning point for them all. “And if I can’t really say I’ve understood it”, one girl wrote, “at least I’ve realized that there is hope for me too, because I have seen it in many of you who are here this evening, in the dignity with which you carry on your shoulders extremely heavy backpacks, in the strength you have to react, which, even if I know you only slightly, I know doesn’t belong to you.... It doesn’t come from here but from another world”.

Lucetta Scaraffia




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 29, 2020