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Faith and touch screens
Rev. Manuel G. Flores Jr.


It is no secret that many of us are growing pessimistic over the perceived indifference of the Filipino youth regarding religion. There seems to be no interest in them about their faith or spirituality. To have a grasp of the situation, perhaps it might be helpful to consider some of the studies made related to this topic.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Phi-lippines commissioned a survey that was carried out by the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and 18 Catholic universities across the country.

This resulted in the drafting of the document entitled the “National Catholic Youth Study 2013.” Based on the presentation entitled “National Filipino Catholic Youth Survey (NCYS) 2013: Top 10 Findings” delivered by Dr. Noel G. Asiones during the St. Thomas Aquinas Forum held at the University of Sto. Tomas in Feb. 7, 2014, 97.4 percent of the youth still consider religion very important in their life, 96.3 percent even affirmed that being a Catholic is an important aspect of their personal identity, and 94.5 percent expressed a sense of belongingness to the Church. What is more interesting is that 45 percent of our youth had entertained the possibility of entering the priesthood or becoming a nun.

In terms of practicing their Catholic faith, 79 percent of the youth attend the mass regularly or at least once a week. Sixty-five percent of them go to confession a number of times in a year. They still find the priests (88 percent), their mothers (87.2 percent), and their fellow members in their religious organization (83.4 percent) as influential figures, inspiring them to practice their faith.

Dr. Jayeel Cornelio, who currently serves as Ateneo de Manila University School of Social Sciences’ Development Studies Program director, said the youth even “think they are more Catholic than the others they see around them.”

Asiones also presented some challenges based on NCYS 2013. The most important of which is the youth’s disagreement over the Church’s position on the Reproductive Health Bill (51 percent) at the time when the survey was conducted between August and September 2013. In spite of this, the overall result of the study is an encouraging one. But still, how come there are many of us who think that they are indifferent or on the verge of losing their faith?

Perhaps, one of the reasons is that we failed to understand this important sector of the Church. It is in understanding the youth that poses more challenges given the need to recognize the uniqueness of each of the generations we had and we will still have, such as the Generation X, millennials, and zennials. Understanding them would entail adjustments in the status quo, and the way we treat and minister to the youth. These types of adjustments could indeed be burdensome to others while others may find it easy. Frictions may also arise between those who are supposed to understand and those who seek to be understood.

Let us take the millennials (those who were born between early 1980’s and early 2000’s) for example. Cornelio opines that, “many young people are reinterpreting religion in ways that make it more meaningful to them.” Their expression of spirituality or religiosity takes in a different or non-conventional form. “There are Catholic youth, for example, who do not go to church but participate in outreach activities organized by their peers.” Other young people “believe that their prayers are ‘answered by the Lord through circumstances, pain, and even secular music.’”

Cornelio, as cited by Cyril Ryan Lituanas in a paper presented during the 10th De La Salle University Arts Congress held at the DLSU in Feb. 16, 2017, says that the youth “are not only disposed to buying gadgets or food tripping; they too can be individualistic but not necessarily self-centered.”

Further, “their attachment to new techno-logy and gadgets would seemingly define the millennials as egocentric, however, they are not self-seeking. They also want activities that give meaning to their lives.”

As for the Church, Pope Francis had demonstrated a good way shown in the statement he made to the youth in Chile last January 2018 that goes, “I want to listen to you directly: it’s important that you speak and not let others quiet you.”

Making use of Pope Francis’ example and the data presented at the beginning, there are elements that the Church would like to consider in order to be in touch with the youth or the millennials, in particular.

First, the personal approach. Even if you are not a millennial, such an approach is something you would want to respond to. Overemphasis of authority, rank, achievements, or status in the society tends to turn off or shoo away the young. Being true to one’s self helps bring about a rapport that could contribute to openness and trust.

Second, means of communications. Millennials are used to their gadgets and are comfortable with online communications. The use of the Internet is something the Church must not set aside. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, “unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important.” To have a website and some social media accounts is something that the Church has to consider to be in touch with the millennials and become familiar with the technologies that come along their way. However, we must bear in mind that “(t)he new communication technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth, and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being” as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us.

To add, “(i)t is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected;’ connections need to grow into true encounters,” as Pope Francis emphasized on the occasion of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization in January 2015.

Third, action. In a Business Mirror article written by Andrew Mencias entitled, “Catholic youth groups grapple with declining memberships,”  he had interviewed a president of a youth group wherein the president stated that “the notion that people have of Catholic organizations is that it’s all dasal-dasal (prayers) and that they don’t need that in college.” There is a need to balance prayers with actions. By allowing the faith to be in action through serving the needy and doing worthwhile apostolates that engage the young to contribute for the betterment of the community can help to achieve this goal.

Fourth, interaction. There is a need for the Church to interact with millennials not only online but also in person and most especially with their loved ones. To encourage family, relatives and peer interactions in wholesome activities is something Church communities could organize, like “Family Encounters.” Lituanas, quoting Strommen (2000), stated,“the powerful influence in the faith development of millennial youth is family, congregation, community, and culture. The results apparently revealed that family and friends matter most in practicing religious activities.” Looking into another angle, “(t)here is a need for millennials to moderate trends in their behavior which prompt their criticism.

One culprit is the smartphone. Most millennials are seen spending inordinate times on their phones, instead of interacting with the real world around them as Marshall Connolly states in his article, “Pope Francis defends millennials but warns them about too much reality TV.” 

The good Pope added a challenge and an invitation to millennials “to spend more time with older relatives, grandparents, and parents, and to make memories with these people that could add meaning to their lives.” This encouragement could be seen as a cue for the Church to strengthen interactive events in church activities so as to help millennials appreciate all the more their faith.

The young generation are the future of religion. We may perceive them as indifferent, but in reality they are not. They just have a different outlook, which we need to understand. We must learn to interact with them using their “language.” To tie them to past practices or conventional manner of expressing one’s spirituality will only bring about a crisis. The message of Christ is and will always be the same. However, it is how we convey it where lies the challenge and the difference. At this present age, the Church has to learn the “language” of the millennials and translate the Gospel to their language so that they will come to realize the beauty of their faith.

Now, you might wonder how come I have entitled this article “Faith and Touch Screens.” Well, “faith” does not really need “screens” in order for you to see its relevance; nevertheless, if it has to, then so be it. As you swipe that screen, we pray, that may your selfies be transformed into “we-fies” toward grou(p)-fies.

RELIGION AND GADGETS -- The millennials’’’’’’ and zennials’’' expression of spirituality and religiosity takes in a non-conventional form, but surveys show that 97 percent of the youth still consider religion important in their life. -- Ofelia C. Empian


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