By Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, Executive Director, Institute for Pastoral Initiatives, and Professor, University of Dayton
World Youth Day is being celebrated this week in Madrid, Spain. There, Pope Benedict XVI is spending four full days with young people who share a commitment to Christ and come from all Christian faiths. It’s a good time to reflect on these young adults and take a look at what makes them unique.
They are “digital natives.” They are immersed in the social networking milieu—Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and scores of others that are their primary means of communication. We should be looking at how this e-world impacts the spirituality of the young.
The Internet is a portal of resources and information that they are constantly navigating. They’re sharing with one another; they’re forming e-communities of faith formation that may not always fit into the “institutional Church,” but that deeply touch their own personal spiritualities.
As they continue to explore what faith means to them or their relationship with God (or the All Holy or Transcendent), social networking is a powerful resource, and those of us in ministry within the Church must take it seriously. The challenge is how to create a bridge between the depth of expression that they encounter in social networking and life in the parish or physical community.
Young people often tell me that they don’t find the kind of community in parish life that they find in social networking. This is not a major percentage of our young people, but it is a growing number, and I think this is a very sad commentary on the reality in which we live.
On the Internet Highway
This world of social networking is creating lots of options for them and lots of perspectives. Learning how to discern what all of this means is really key.
It is like being in your car in a foreign country where the language is different and the highway signs are different. If you don’t have a guide, you can get lost. Young people get out on that Internet highway and if they’re not grounded in their faith, they are navigating into unfamiliar territory and can get lost.
One response from the institutional Church is to drill doctrine into young people, but I believe that there’s another portal, another place we need to begin. Instead of drilling doctrine into our students we should be creating experiences where they can develop a relationship with God and with Jesus and see who they are in their lives. I think this is the portal that attracts young people because it deals with interpersonal relationships and how you nurture and deepen your relationship with God. Then the teachings of the Church can be blended in, not the other way around.
Note: Sister Angela Ann will be sharing more of her thoughts on young people in the Fall-Winter issue of The Mission Helper magazine.