Every summer for the past 18 years I have been co-facilitator for the Caribbean School for Catholic Communications in Trinidad, West Indies. Young adults join us from all around the Caribbean to explore how to cultivate their new media skills for communicating faith in a digital culture. Each year our students come sporting a new digital device and spending an exorbitant amount of time twittering, texting or enjoying their interactive apps.
There used to be a time when I was the one on the cutting edge of all the new media and my students were awed by my knowledge, expertise and smooth manipulation of the technology. Today it is almost the reverse. I am the one running to catch up with the digital tools that occupy their constant attention and significant portions of their day. I pondered this widening "digital gap" with a sigh.
However, we were in a Catholic Communications School for a purpose- to help these young adults learn how to communicate faith through these gems of the digital world.
One of the first awakenings our team experienced was that our new participants had the tools and could access the programs, apps and the like, but knowing how to manipulate these tools for re-imagining a digital, journalistic or web faith story was another issue.
While we were prepared to introduce The Year of Faith as the grounding principle for our work during the week, we realized that a deeper faith reality was floating around the room. The more we spoke about a "living faith," "an encounter with Jesus" and "the prophetic witness of discipleship" influencing the message and content of their new media productions, we were awakened to moments of deep silence- the kind of silence that implies a gap- a deep gap between what we were sharing and some of their lives.
This was confirmed during the smalland large-group discussions and written testimonials. While we experienced profound expressions of faith from some, we began to realize that within and among our group were those with little faith, or searching faith or no faith. This year dramatically differed from our experiences in the past. We had been assuming all along that anyone coming to a Catholic Communications School was arriving with a robust or firm faith. This awakening quickly caught the attention of our team and in short order we worked together to re-imagine the content of our sessions and the new methodologies for bridging the gap between faith, life and the new digital age.
During the week we experienced the inner struggles, the light beginning to glisten in their eyes, the rapid flow of questions emerging and a new "aha faith awakening" taking shape in our liturgies, their working relationships with one another and the design and content of their final productions.
Discovery and Reawakening
As each participant left on the final day, we received comments of rediscovery, reawakening and an inner change regarding their experience of understanding and embracing their faith. They were eager to return to their homes and parishes to explore ways to intensify their personal faith journey and awaken others to theirs. A new day had dawned. The gap was beginning to be filled, but we still have a long way to go.
My guess is that this account is no different than many of your experiences in ministry, or teaching in a Catholic school. We can never assume where our students are in their faith journeys. They may go through the steps of the liturgical or para-liturgical rituals and parrot back the Catholic words, but this is no guarantee that the deeper reality of a personal encounter with Jesus that changes minds and hearts has occurred. We have before us more than ever young people with little faith, searching faith and no faith. Every dimension of their lives is being affected by a cacophony of images, sounds, music and words that captures their imagination more often than our own attempts to communicate faith.
How often do we approach our religious education and catechetical instruction with a 19th or 20th century educational mentality for the 21st century students before us? …