Pope encourages oratories to help form good Catholics, good citizens

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic oratories and youth groups that provide after-school activities, religious education and a place for children and teens to gather should be loud, joyful places that help form good Catholics and good citizens, Pope Francis said.

"Do not stop working to educate, to support the family and to communicate the beauty of fraternity," the pope told staff of the oratories and youth groups belonging to the Italian National Association of St. Paul, which was founded in 1963.

Pope Francis welcomed the group to the Vatican Dec. 7 as part of their 60th anniversary celebrations.

The recreational, cultural and artistic activities of the oratories and youth centers are aimed at the "integral education" of young people, he said. "We must have at heart the whole person, in all his or her dimensions: affective, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, physical."

A holistic education like that creates good citizens as well as good Christians, he said.

"Keep your doors, but especially your arms and hearts open," Pope Francis asked members of the group. While it is not always easy, "we know that the other is always a gift to safeguard and value."

The oratories and youth clubs run by parishes and religious orders throughout Italy are places of joy, he said. "Joy is the greatest medicine. When a person loses the capacity for joy there is something wrong."

"Christians cannot be sad," he said, because "the Gospel is joy, hope, light, the proclamation of salvation."

Christian joy goes along with self-giving, which is seen in those who staff and volunteer at the oratories, he said.

The centers are often noisy places, the pope said. "The racket of the children is the sound of their dreams, their enthusiasm, their desire to be protagonists and to change the world, of their ability to turn the out-of-tune notes of this time into music."

And, he said, "this uproar is good for us, waking us up from the torpor of false certainties and comfortable habits."