Teens voice concerns about social media

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - Updated: 1:00 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Young Catholics today face formidable forces that barely existed a decade ago, and the Diocesan Youth Council is committed to helping them navigate the choppy waters of a fast-changing culture.

Council members discussed how they try to live the faith and about the current state of the Church of Pittsburgh during an in-service gathering Jan. 19-20 at the Martina Spiritual Renewal Center in West View.

The teens, who attend Catholic, public high schools or are home-schooled, spent time in prayer, roundtables, witness talks and small groups. A full report will be shared with Bishop David Zubik in early March.

A key focus of the On Mission for The Church Alive! revitalization initiative is to bring more young people into committed discipleship with Christ. The negative dynamics of social media are among the greatest challenges to achieving that goal, council members said. Often they find themselves defending their faith.

“For our generation, there’s so much pressure,” said Carlie Kreutzer, 17, of St. Sebastian Parish in the Neighbors North Catholic Community. “It’s hard when you tell your friends that you’re Catholic and some of them just want to criticize you.”

“I read about a lot of bad stuff, kids who are getting high and drunk,” said Billy Wivagg, 16, a member of St. Germaine Parish in Bethel Park. “With social media, it’s about popularity and doing whatever you want.”

He experienced a crisis of faith two years ago, questioning the existence of God. Discovering the miracles associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico brought him back to the church.

Josephine McKenna, 15, of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Hopewell Township, Beaver County, continues to grow closer to Jesus.

“Much of my faith journey has been falling deeper in love with God, being awed by his beauty, goodness and perfection,” she said.

“Our faith is so vibrant,” said Robert Lipnichan, 16, of Mater Dolorosa Parish in Chicora, Butler County. “We can spread the joy and the love of the Lord with others, and strengthen the community we live in.”

Council members hope to provide a positive example among many young Catholics who received the sacraments but no longer practice the faith. A recent study from St. Mary’s Press found that about two-thirds of respondents who had left the church made their first Communion, but only one-third had been confirmed.

Even greater challenges lie ahead. About 85 percent of young Catholics drift away from the faith in college, most within their first year of leaving home.

The influence of social media is expected to continue to grow. Half of young people in Generation Z, born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, are online 10 hours a day, according to Franciscan University educator Bob Rice, who spoke at a diocesan faith formation summit last March.

At the heart of the issue is what, or whom, to believe in these virtual communities.

“There is moral relativism — everyone can have their own truth,” said Michael Pater, an adult facilitator of the council and religion teacher at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights. “We need to equip young people to answer questions about the faith.”

“The time spent in conversation with members of the youth council is always refreshing,” said Gary Roney, diocesan director of youth and young adult engagement. “This community of trust, compassion and stability gives rise to new friendships and a great sense of hope.”

Father Bill Dorner, chaplain to the council, pointed to the church’s evangelization efforts.

“We have to let people know the gift we have in the Catholic faith,” he said. “It’s not a program, a book or a DVD series, it’s built through relationships.

“There’s always a hunger for truth and meaning in life. That truth is in Jesus Christ and his church.”

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