20% of Italian youths pray daily

Rome, Italy - Young Italians have less and less time for religion but one in five still prays every day and one in three does so 'sometimes', according to a new survey .

In the country which is home to the Vatican, some 70% of under-24s define themselves as Catholics, although this might mean anything from being a fervent and regular worshipper to simply writing the word 'Catholic' when filling in forms .

"Religious practice among young people seems to be increasingly subjective," said a report by the Milan-based IARD research institute on behalf of the Italian Catholic Church .

In fact, attendance at Mass continues to fall. Only 17% of young Italians go to mass regularly, compared to 25% in 1992, the survey found. The research, carried out on 3,000 young people from all over Italy, also found that girls are generally more interested in religion than boys and devotion is strongest in the less developed southern regions .

One in four young Italians said they never prayed and never went to mass .

It was also confirmed that, as years pass, each generation worries less about transmitting the faith to the next. A large proportion of interviewees said the crucial person in this area was the mother .

Monsignor Domenico Sigalini, head of the Church organism which commissioned the survey, said more had to be done to answer the questions that young people asked about life .

"There is a yearning for spirituality and faith, but it fails to find satisfying answers through the traditional forms of religious participation," he said .

He also warned about the constant danger that young people, unsatisfied with what the Catholic faith offered, would "slide towards magic and satanism" .

Pope Benedict XVI has made it clear he shares his predecessor's view that young people are the "future and the hope of the Church and humanity." He encouraged them to go to World Youth day celebrations in Cologne last August. At least a million youths from some 160 countries turned up to see him .

It was John Paul II who invented the concept of World Youth Days, which have been held in Manila, Paris, Rome and Toronto. He had intended to attend the Cologne event too, but he died four months before it happened .

Benedict went in his place, saying he wanted to engage the young in dialogue and "listen to their expectations" .