The day’s event marked the first time a large gathering that was not a Mass was held in Saint Peter’s Square since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, two year ago. The Prayer vigil saw several teenagers share their experience of trials and faith and receive the Pope’s encouragement and blessing.
Some 100,000 Italian teenagers heard a girl named Alice tell about her suffering at the death of her grandmother and how she eventually understood how to turn her pain into a gift for others.
Another girl named Sofia spoke about her loneliness during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and how a new friend taught her to view life through different eyes full of hope and joy.
Among the testimonies, 12-year-old Mattia Piccoli, awarded with the honorary title of “Alfiere della Repubblica” by President Mattarella in recognition of the help given to his father suffering from premature Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 40, was the most moving. “I was a typical six-year-old boy who only thought about playing. Everything seemed fine until I started to notice that my father was not himself anymore, he was acting differently, sometimes he would forget important things like picking me up from school or buying the groceries. As I said before, I didn’t think much about it, but as time went by my father started behaving oddly — he didn’t want to play with me anymore and sometimes, when I asked him to watch TV, he was unable to switch it on. I could not understand what was happening to my father. On 19 December we learned something that was to change my family’s life: my father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer disease. I had no understanding of what kind of illness it was, so one day my mother told me about the extent of the impact of this type of disease, especially at a younger age. “From then on, it was my job — not having any external assistance — to help my dad with his daily activities, which he was no longer able to do on his own, such as taking a shower, tying his shoelaces or comforting him when he didn’t know where he was”, Mattia said. “I never did anything unwillingly or out of obligation. I only wished to help my father as an act of love, remembering all that he had done for me”.