OTTAWA (CCN) — With the ubiquitous use of smartphones and computer screens, today’s youth face immense challenges and opportunities, say Catholic youth leaders.
“They tend to struggle with real social connection that is not through a screen,” Melissa Monette, youth co-ordinator at Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, told a consultation the Ottawa archdiocese is holding for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. “If they feel awkward they do not push through those emotions, they turn on their phone. They don’t deal with awkwardness or feelings anymore.”
“Bullying has gone to a whole new level,” Monette said. Because it has gone online, it affects youth 24 hours a day. “I don’t think any youth gets through this without wounds,” she said. The challenge it to help teens work through these wounds, and to help them from becoming bullies themselves. “It’s everywhere, damaging them, and we don’t know.”
“The amount of sex and drugs is insane,” Monette said. “I’ve met kids who said things at age nine that I had to look up. It starts way too young. There’s a lack of interest in God, in church, and in religion.”
For Michelle Miller, who serves as co-ordinator for young adults and faith formation at St. Joseph’s Parish near the University of Ottawa campus, university students, graduates and international students face “huge” financial issues. They have concerns about what they will do when they get out of school; whether they will have to move out west to get a job.
They also face the challenge of the relevancy and trustworthiness of institutions in general, not only the church, she said, noting the recent crumbling of the banking system during the last worldwide financial crisis.
“Young adults wear an armour around them and you have to get through that armour,” Miller said. “They can smell authenticity a mile away. You won’t get through that armour unless there is some authenticity.”
Young people are used to being “seen as a commodity” she said, noting they are aware of how much everyone has an eye on their wallet.
While Miller agreed with the concerns about over-dependence on screens, the ability to connect online allows them huge opportunities as well. They are connected to people all over the world and have access to materials on faith and spiritual conversion that are “completely out-of-the-box,” she said.
St. Joseph’s offers a 7 pm Sunday mass for university students that offers low lights, candles and lots of silence, Miller said. Though at first she thought she would make changes to make it more lively, she soon realized this would be a mistake — the students craved silence.
They also seek out service opportunities, she said. In a narcissistic society, they “know it feels different” to help others.
“When they are convinced, they will do anything,” said Rev. Vincent Pereira, pastor of St. Theresa’s Parish. He noted how every year on the eve of the National March for Life, about 1,000 young people gather at his parish to march to the nearby Human Rights Monument to hold a candlelight vigil.
Though many young Catholics are no longer practising the faith, they still want to stay connected, and want their children exposed to the values they were raised with, Miller said. They plan to have their children baptized and confirmed.
Young people are also looking for tools to help them discern how to make good choices, she said.
“They are looking for a place to be accepted,” Monette said, noting that sometimes a teen “just needs to vent, to sit there and be upset.”
“This generation of young adults is the most accepting generation I’ve ever encountered,” Monette said. “At least in Ottawa, on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation — a person is a person. It’s beautiful how open they are to accepting people.”
Both young leaders spoke of the importance of integrating young people with the parish as a whole. “It works when the priest is on board,” Monette said. “It makes them feel more involved with the parish — not like a ghetto.”
Ted Hurley, director of family and youth ministry for the Ottawa archdiocese, facilitated the consolation, with Krista Wawrykow, who works with Hurley, recording the results on a laptop.
The Ottawa archdiocese is holding four consultations based on a questionnaire the synod of bishops in Rome sent to episcopal conferences around the world. The questionnaire includes questions such as, “In what manner does the church listen to the lived situations of young people?” and “What do young people really ask of the church in your country today?”
“We’ve done well in programming,” Miller said. “But we’ve done programming instead of listening.”
Monette said that youth will “vote with their feet” if listening is not built into programming.
Hurley said the Vatican will soon have an online consultation available through a website. The results of the consultation will help shape into the 2018 synod’s working document, or Instrumentum laboris.