Social discourse

For some young people, the established notion of a bricks-and-mortar church is shifting to podcasts, social media and forum sites. Fr Ramesh Richards SJ shares insights after attending the International Conference on Youth Ministry in Manila last month.


“Right living is more important than right believing,” was a line I heard from the first keynote speaker, Dr Jayeel Cornelio, at the International Conference on Youth Ministry I attended recently. The Conference was organised by the Loyola School of Theology and held at the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines from the 13th to the 15th of April 2023. This line, refers to how youth and young adults today more and more are disengaged from the institutional church because they are not able to identify with the very community they were baptised into. Cornelio was quick to add that their disengagement was not a loss of faith in faith but simply a sense of disenfranchisement of young people from their faith community. Not all is loss, though, as young people still hold true to the values which call for a response in the way they live, hence “right living.” Dr. Cornelio also mentioned that young people are looking for authenticity – they want to live authentically themselves and to see people around them living authentically.

Many young people are forming their theology based on the reality of their lives, outside the context of the traditional understanding of church. But belief systems are created in relationships, and hence in community. So where are the youth and young adults having this discourse? Where has ‘church’ moved for them?

Julian Butler SJ (left), Fr Ramesh Richards SJ (centre) and Fr Alan Wong SJ (right) attending the International Conference on Youth Ministry, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. Photo: Ramesh Richards.

Dr. Antony Lourdunathan, a Salesian from the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, shared that for most youth, the physical world and the online world are seamlessly one. For a young person, living in the real world includes the world wide web. If this is the case, perhaps ‘church’ for the young person has moved to podcasts, social media, and forum sites. Here young people feel they can be their authentic self and meet like-minded people. At the same time, this online world is limited because one remains hidden behind a screen, as Pope Francis wrote in Christus Vivit, his encyclical directed to young people:

“The fresh and exuberant lives of young people who want to affirm their personality today confront a new challenge: that of interacting with a real and virtual world that they enter alone, as if setting foot on an undiscovered global continent. Young people today are the first to have to effect this synthesis between what is personal, what is distinctive to their respective cultures, and what is global. This means that they must find ways to pass from virtual contact to good and healthy communication.” [#90]

Julian Butler SJ and Fr Ramesh Richards SJ. Photo: Julian Butler.

As ministers and mentors, regardless of the limits of the younger generation’s ‘church’, we should not fear to engage and work in this ‘church’ for God also dwells here and calls it home. Personally, as a Jesuit missioned to be engaged especially with the 3rd Universal Apostolic Preference, to “accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future”, I am encouraged by Pope Paul VI’s 1974 exhortation to the Jesuits, later recalled and endorsed by Pope Benedict:

“Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits.”

Fr Ramesh Richards SJ

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