Social media can help young people engage their faith, say American Catholics

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When using social media, Ogechi Akalegbere, catechist and pastoral council co-chair at St. Rose of Lima Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, believes it is prudent to ensure that her posts reflect honestly his opinions and respect others.

Above all, Akalegbere seeks a balance in what she chooses to share or comment.

“The world doesn’t need to know everything about me,” she said Dec. 2 during an online discussion on social media use by young adults sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. .

The program was the last segment of a three-part series on “Pope Francis, Youth and Solidarity: Dialogues on“ Fratelli Tutti ”. . “

Akalegbere, 33, was one of three participants in the discussion who described their use of social media and offered advice to young adult viewers on how to gain positive experiences from their interactions on the various online platforms. existing.

They suggested that engaging with others on social media can generate positive feelings, especially as the ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to limit in-person interactions, leading to greater isolation.

It takes us to a place where we don’t connect with people but become more isolated in the way we engage with people.

They also warned that overuse of social media can be damaging to a person’s “mind”.

Like anything else, social media has its pros and cons, said Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg, digital content specialist for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and participant in the Vatican’s Communicating Faith to the World program. digital ”.

Goldberg described seeing examples of young people using social media in a “balanced way that is proactive in empowering and also raising voices that are constantly on the sidelines.”

Nonetheless, she warned, whatever ways social media is used, it only presents a “real highlight” of one person’s experiences and “the full picture” of an individual. is never seen online.

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Pope Francis’ references to social media in his encyclical focus on the positive aspects of interacting online, even as he pointed out the danger of isolating himself behind a smartphone or computer screen, the Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont.

“The pope’s concerns focus more on user behaviors than on the various means of posting digital content,” said Bishop Coyne, who maintained an active online presence for nearly two decades as he promoted church teaching and kept in touch with parishioners.

“The real challenges arise because digital media can lead to dark places,” he said.

“It takes us to a place where we don’t connect with people but become more isolated in the way we engage with people. We don’t go out of the building,” he continued.

“His warning is that it is not enough to rely on these digital connections for any kind of meaningful human encounter. He constantly tells us and challenges us in so many ways to get out of our screens or phones to go. in a place where we meet other people, ”said the bishop.

It is through such in-person and online meetings that Akalegbere has been able to bring forth the voices of people rarely heard in church or by society.

She referenced her podcast, “Tell Me If You Can,” in which she shares the various stories of women telling their stories of accomplishing or overcoming a challenge in hopes of inspiring social change.

Akalegbere recognized that for millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, digital media is the primary mode of communication. She encouraged viewers online to learn to use social media “in a healthy and balanced way” so that they don’t dominate their lives or create animosity and anger.

When posting something online, Akalegbere said she was asking, “Does this reflect who I am or does he respect someone else?” “

She also called on people to “be open to stepping out of the echo chamber” when considering what to post.

I think in terms of caring for the soul this is something very important to me in the way I engage on social media.

Goldberg said his work with the Vatican has introduced ways to see how social media can affect the lives of others.

She said there were 16 people in the Vatican’s “Communicating Faith in the Digital World” program; they are between 20 and 30 years old. The program allowed participants to hear how social media “captured their local church community in different ways through cultural, linguistic and pastoral approaches”.

The conversations allowed participants, who come from all over the world, to understand that social media cannot be ignored or dismissed, but to see the many online platforms as a way to engage their faith.

It is such a commitment that guided Bishop Coyne’s use of social media. He recently featured an online video series, “Coffee with Bishop Coyne,” which explores church life in Vermont, across the United States and around the world.

“I think in terms of caring for the soul this is something very important to me in the way I engage on social media,” said the bishop. “(I try) to help other people to know the Lord Jesus as I know him in the Catholic Church. To love him, to serve him with all my heart and to try to help them find a way to him. also.”

Further, he suggested that “when a youngster is constantly on the phone or the iPad or whatever he is doing, we around them who are older and wiser might encourage them to recognize that it is not the ultimate goal of existence. “

Each participant in the discussion continually came back to the importance of involving others in person as much as possible to build community and understanding.

Goldberg agreed, saying, “Social media is a big space, but it’s also a limited space.”

“All of us, putting all of our eggs in these baskets limits us,” she said. “It limits the responsibility we can have for ourselves and the level of responsibility we can call to be held for other people. We need to engage with people on other platforms and other spaces, hopefully. – him in person, to benefit from all this experience of my humanity interacting with your humanity. “

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