Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 25, 2010
Church must meet youth online
Penna urges Church to prepare youth ministers to make connections via internet
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT - Youth ministers must be able to translate the tradition of the Catholic Church into a language that young people can understand, says Father Stefano Penna.
And they must start going online to teach the tradition because that's where young people are, Penna said.
Speaking to a group of youth ministers, the priest said many are using the Internet not just to entertain themselves but also to make connections and to engage in meaningful conversations. Youth ministers should do the same.
Most youth ministry in the future will take place online, he predicted. "It might be that youth ministry in the future looks like one meeting a month in the church and six meetings a month in some sort of online space," he said.
"You younger people should be able to mobilize and use that kind of space - not to entertain people but to create connections and to bring the Word of God to young people."
Before introducing them to the tradition, young people must be encouraged to "play the game of Christianity" by getting involved in social actions, Penna said. "Then, through that game-playing, they will be able to make sense of the Bible and the teachings of the Church."
Penna, academic vice president and dean of theology of Newman Theological College, led a retreat for members of the Western Association of Catholic Youth Ministers at their annual conference at the Star of the North Retreat Centre. About 40 youth ministers from across the West attended the Jan. 14-17 conference.
The retreat took place in the chapel of the Star of the North following a brief prayer service. Organizers brought small rocks as symbols of peace and invited participants to pick one up.
Looking at the rocks piled up on the floor, Penna jokingly called the symbolic action a 1970s approach to youth ministry.
"It doesn't speak to the imaginative reality of young people at all," he said. "They are not into rocks. They are on Facebook, they are into Twitter and they are into video games."
Regardless of where teens are, youth ministers must be able to teach them the tradition of the Church with clarity.
"It is incumbent upon those who are called by the Holy Spirit to be youth ministers to be able to translate our tradition into a way that they understand," Penna told participants. "To do that, you've got to know the tradition and the cultural language of today and that's a lot of work and a lot of study."
Penna said the Church has to invest lots of money into supporting the education and work of youth ministers if it wants the ministry to succeed. "There has to be constant education."
In the past, the approach to youth ministry in many ways was to entertain young people, noted the priest.
"But something has changed in the experience of young people." Nowadays they are having meaningful connections and conversations online.
"I'll leave it to you how to use the Internet and the screen as an imaginative place for young people to meet the Lord's Good News."
Penna recently surrendered to Facebook, in part to communicate with his nephews.
"I noticed that the seminarians are part of a whole kind of conversational group of people that are sharing these kinds of resources."
Youth ministers, he said, should try to get young people to play the game of Christianity before teaching them the tradition. He spoke about an educational theorist who believes young people learn through playing games.
LEARNING THROUGH GAMES
Once the theorist bought a game but didn't know how to play it so he bought the book about the game as well.
But the book didn't make sense to him so he did what most kids do - he started playing the game. After playing the game a bit, he was able to go back to the book and understand it and use it as a resource for the game.
The same applies to Christianity, Penna said. Kids won't be able to make much sense of the Bible unless they play the game.
"So the thing to do is to play the game - to get involved in ministry, to get involved in social justice, to get involved in liturgy, to get kids involved," he said.
"My dream of what a young Catholic person's journey would look like would be a little bit like the Mormons," he continued.
"I would like to see every young Catholic get a chance to go away before they become an adult and play the game of living their Baptism in another place; going and being with other people in a different place, not to proselytize but to go and listen, to have that connection."
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