A Thought for Friends

The youth must not be judged but helped. They are not a problem but a large resource and a big chance. But first, they need to be understood.

Someone asked me, not long ago:

‘Do you think that something can still be done about this youth? Towns, especially cities, are full of discos, stadiums, restaurants and entertainment places where thousands of young people are loud, defying any decency, far from the good and quiet behaviour of our elders.’

I tried to answer by retelling something that happened in Iaşi while I was a student. It was in 1998, during the spring, I think. It was evening and outside, it was quite warm. The locals – like almost everybody in the country – were watching a football game on TV. Romania was playing against England. If we were to win, we would have qualified for I don’t know what football cup or championship. I was walking with a novice on the alleys of the Three Hierarchs Monastery. The air was pleasant and we were well disposed for meditation and conversation. Every now and again, we could hear cheers or disappointment shouts from the blocks of flats in front of the monastery or from far away.

‘There’s a football game going on’ I said.

‘Yes. Who’s playing?’

‘I don’t know. Romania is playing against England I think. Anyway, I think it is an important match because not a soul is in the street’.

It was 9.30 – 10.00 pm. Usually, at that hour, the city centre, the Union Square, the Copou area, or Tudor campus would be quite animated. We continued to walk and rest our souls. Once in a while, we would share our thoughts, trying to shape some idea. The novice, who had already spent some time in the monastery, would utter sentences, now and then. He would express his authoritative and sure views of things. We forgot about the football match. The shouts of the football fans could still be heard, once in a while, but we had gotten used to them and they no longer distracted out attention. We were absorbed in our thoughts when the shouting “goooooaaaaall! Goal – goal – goal ...! made us stop short. Shouts of joy, of enthusiasm…goooaal. The blocks of flats were vibrating. Football fans were coming out on their balconies, they were going back inside again, as if ignorant of how to express their joy.

I then remembered Nadia Comăneci and Ilie Năstase, Dan Grecu and Paţaichin. I was little, and I was watching TV with my parents, and when a Romanian sportsperson would be ranked the first in some Olympic games or international contest, he or she would step up the podium in the middle, the Romanian flag would be put up and our national anthem, “Three  colours…”, would be played. We were very proud. For us, children, these sportspersons were some heroes. They were defeating everybody from all countries, even though the latter were coming from large countries: America, Russia, China. My parents and relatives were praising Nadia.

‘Look at this kid, she is so small and she is showing the whole world that Romania has a place on the map.’ I was boasting about being born in Oneşti, Nadia’s native town. When the Romanian anthem would start playing and the national flag would go up and the whole stadium would stand up, quietly, many, in our home, would start weeping. We liked Paţaichin, too. He was strong and tall, and it was as if he were flying in his kayak on water.

The match lasted for a number of minutes and then it ended. Joy everywhere, vibration, balconies full of people, streets crossed now and then by honking cars, flags fluttering out of car windows, girls with flags on top of jeeps, like ancient vestals, city dwellers in the streets, strolling towards nowhere. Everything in a whirl of honks and voices. Cars after cars, all loaded with young people. Then police squads came out in the streets. They tapped their fingers into microphones and announced through portable loudspeakers that: Traffic is stopped on “Stephen the Great” Avenue, please vacate the avenue. There was going to be a meeting of students from Tudor all the way up to Târguşor campus. A spontaneous manifestation of joy. About 10,000 students from Tudor Vladimirescu student complex wanted to show their solidarity with the Romanian team. Who could stop them? They had not submitted a request to the City Hall, 48 hours in advance, for approval. That’s it! After 15-20 minutes we began to hear: Ro-ma-ni-a! Ro-ma-ni-a! The novice was unhappy, even troubled when he saw all that chaos.

‘Alas! Look how decadent these youth have become. Hooligans, hooligans. Where is this country headed for?’

Once in a while, he would say even harsher words, which made me refrain from making any comment. He was bent on accusing. The mass of students had arrived in front of the Palace of Culture and was entering a straight line along Saint Stephen’s avenue. There were many of them. Students had been joined by many locals, too. At the front, they were not so dense, but at the back, they were forming a compact front. More than 200 meters of people, maybe more. When we saw so many people who, by now, had got in front of the monastery, we pulled back, inside the monastery yard. There was so much noise that me and the novice, we could not hear what we were saying to each other. I looked at him and I saw a deep disapproval expression, on his face. When the middle of the front of students and locals was just across out gate, something unexpected happened. In a brief moment of silence, between two chants, somebody’s voice was heard saying: “Guys, Our Father!”, and we witnessed a rare scene. It could not have been so perfectly directed, not even after 30 rehearsals. It could not have been performed so quickly, not even if an army general or I don’t know who had ordered it. We did not even have time to realize what was happening. In an instant, the young people kneeled down facing the Three Hierarchs Church and they started uttering, in a loud and slowly paced voice:

‘Our Father, Which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…’ . We, as if ashamed, hid behind a thuja tree. We were experiencing a strange feeling. A special and sublime spiritual state was created. The words uttered by kneeling students, their palms brought together in prayer, under their chin, were hitting against the Palace of Culture, reverberating back towards the Metropolitan Cathedral and stopping against the multiple-winged tower-like block of flats opposite the church. An echo was thus formed, that was doubling the words. The sounds were fluttering among buildings but they seemed to slide along the road as well, borrowing something from it, a specific tonality. The air was reverberating. One had the feeling that the air was being exorcised.

- “…and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

The novice started crossing himself. In slow and ample gestures. Then, he simply said a few times: ‘well…! well..!’

The students rose and continued their march towards the Metropolitan Cathedral, the University, Târguşor campus, chanting the same ovations ‘Romania…! Romania…!’ And then I thought to myself: these youngsters are not lost, and they are not hooligans. They are our youth, Romanians, who are calling out their country’s name, Romania, and who still know how to say “Our Father”.

The youth must not be judged but helped. They are not a problem but a large resource and a big chance. But first, they need to be understood.

Read other articles about: friends, help, chance
„A pure heart and a watchful mind are the most beautiful adornment of youth.”
- Metropolitan Nicolae Bălan -