by Fr Giovanni d'Andrea, SDB
There are just over 8,000 oratories in Italy, a tradition that has been operating in Italy for 450 years, since the time of San Filippo Neri in the Rome of the 16th century. In these centuries the oratory has been able to adapt itself to the needs of the times, remaining always in the field of education and the Christian formation of young people.
In terms of combating educational poverty one of the main activities are the extra-curricular activities of the "after-school": 83% is the national average of the oratories who provide this service, very much based on volunteers, and goes from simply helping with homework to the integrated forms that add social activities, sports, arts and crafts, such as theater, dance, singing, music, and so on. These last are carried out by 88% of oratories, while sports are present in 83 % of cases.
The oratory also offers teenagers and young people the opportunity to put themselves at the service of younger children, especially in the summer with the famous "GREST". Leisure trips, which combine the recreational, cultural and ecological-environmental aspects, should also be considered; and the involvement of young people in charitable and voluntary activities.
Another socio-educational aspect played by the oratory is its being a place of inclusion of different ethnic groups. It is at the oratory, as well as at school, that young "second generation" immigrants live inclusion processes and, if guided by adults and educators, everyone can discover the richness that every culture has in itself. This also opens up to an interesting interreligious comparison and relationship.
Speaking of oratory one often imagines courtyards, playgrounds ... But these are structures. The essence of the oratory is the people, the generations that meet, the children and their animators, the educators, the parents who are to be involved more and more in the educational dialogue. It is in the relationships wherein people meet and start a dialogue that makes each of the parties grow: the adult increasingly called to live as a meaningful or significant person and the child invited to assume his or her responsibility as a continuator and heir of a cultural heritage that an educating community entrusts to them, and so on from generation to generation.