by Fr. Cris Robert Cellan, SSP
Oftentimes, parents complain to me that they are at a loss on how to deal with their millennial children. And I told them, wait until you encounter the Gen Z-ers and the Generation Alpha who are digital natives. Gen Z-ers are those who are 15 to 24 years old while the Alphas are those born after 2010. Surely, parents have to step up double time to deal with them.
In his recent apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit (Christ is alive!), Pope Francis warns the young people of the digital environment. While digital platforms have brought enormous benefits, “the digital environment is also one of loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence, even to the extreme case of the ‘dark web’. Digital media can expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation and gradual loss of contact with concrete reality, blocking the development of authentic interpersonal relationships. New forms of violence are spreading through social media, for example cyberbullying. The internet is also a channel for spreading pornography and the exploitation of persons for sexual purposes or through gambling.” [CV 88]
“The proliferation of fake news is the expression of a culture that has lost its sense of truth and bends the facts to suit particular interests. The reputation of individuals is put in jeopardy through summary trials conducted online. The Church and her pastors are not exempt from this phenomenon.” [CV 89]
“For many people, immersion in the virtual world has brought about a kind of ‘digital migration’, involving withdrawal from their families and their cultural and religious values, and entrance into a world of loneliness and of self-invention, with the result that they feel rootless even while remaining physically in one place.” [CV 90]
Misinformation, manipulation and loneliness are just some of the challenges facing a priest in his pastoral ministry especially to the young people. But not everything is lost. Digital platforms are neutral tools. They can also be used to combat the evil effects of the irresponsible use of media.
First, we priests must become visual aids ourselves by becoming credible witnesses. It may sound old school yet still effective until today – preaching by good example. Pope Paul VI once said, “Modern man listens more readily to witnesses than to teachers, and if he listens to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Second, we need to master these digital platforms to be able to speak their language and be understood. It is never too late to learn even for old priests. We have to constantly innovate and be sensitive to the signs of the times. Social media amplify exponentially our capacity to transmit the gospel – in real time, online. The Sambuhay TV Mass of the Society of St. Paul, the AlmuSalita of Fr. Luciano Felloni of the Diocese of Caloocan and Lolo Monsi says FB page of Msgr. Manny Gabriel of the Parañaque Diocese are notable examples.
Third, by using these digital platforms ministers have to ultimately plant the seeds of dialogue, patient listening and communion. In the recent four-day National Media Congress organized by the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications, Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara stressed the importance of communication for building and nourishing communion. The challenge, according to him, is doing something not just on social media but how to let the people feel the love of God. “The importance is what we do to spread the Gospel will not just stay in the social media but will also touch the hearts of the people for them to experience God’s love,” he added.