Discussing how the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has altered the lives of young people – professionally, socially and spiritually – Catholic and Christian leaders shared the importance of seeking community and participating in acts of service at an online Salt and Light Gathering sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University on April 27.
This online dialogue, titled “Moving Beyond a Life on Hold: Young Catholics in a Time of Crisis” was the third discussion hosted by the institute during the pandemic, and sought to respond to Pope Francis’s call to engage young people in conversation.
Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, moderated a panel of young leaders from around the country who are engaged in ministry, service and the media. The panelists shared their experiences on facing a new age of social distancing and how they are continuing to pursue community and faith during this crisis.
Ashley McKinless, associate editor at America Magazine and co-host of the podcast Jesuitical, said she’s found that many young people are seeking as much information as possible during this time and that she and her colleagues at America are seeking to provide them with the resources they need.
“We really saw that this was a time to double down on building that virtual community that we had started with the podcast, and what I’ve found is that there is a huge hunger for information,” McKinless said. “I certainly can’t get enough information, it’s one way to kind of deal with anxiety, so we’ve tried to bring that to our listeners.”
For Tara Isabella Burton, an author and columnist for Religion News Service, the pandemic changed her plans as she and her husband eloped in Central Park in New York City just hours before the shelter-in-place order began. But Burton shared that despite not having the ceremony they originally planned, there was “such a sense of community in that all of these New Yorkers (observing from the park) were determined to be present.”
“It was just this marvelous reminder of how enmeshed we are as a community in one another’s lives,” Burton said.
This realization, she said, was a manifestation of the meaning of community in person and even digitally, as many people are communicating today.
Darius Villalobos, the director of diversity and inclusion at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, said that during this time people can return the basics of personal relationship building by connecting with others through phone calls and writing letters.
“We have to do what is within our means,” he said.
Young people especially have a role to play in today’s situation, Villalobos said, especially as they are able to help others transition to more online or media focused forms of communication and even worship, as online and livestreamed Masses are still the only means of accessing the sacraments in many dioceses around the country.
McKinless added that while during this time especially there is an increased reliance on social media, many are finding that it is not enough.
“We sorely miss being together,” she said. “We’re trying to hold onto that hunger that also (yearns) for the real thing. A lot of people right now have the sense that things are not going to be the same after this. I think what itself is the reminder (to choose) what we really want and what we haven’t really valued in the past.”
And even though many young people are confined to their homes for the time being, Kimberly Mazyck, senior manager for engagement and educational outreach at Catholic Charities USA, shared that there are still many ways to virtually volunteer time to local nonprofits and groups in need. She encouraged young people to check in with their local Catholic Charities agencies throughout the country, many of which are experiencing increased need for food and crowded shelters.
“We’re working with farmers to take food that would have just been left behind in a field to rot,” she said.
Other organizations seeking help during this time, she said, are allforgood.org and myamericorps.gov. In addition, Mazyck encouraged young people to be an advocate by calling their representatives and letting them know their thoughts.
“There are many ways to be engaged and involved and not lose hope,” Mazyck said. “We are a people of hope.”
Mazyck also shared that during a time when young people might have returned home to be with their family, “there’s an opportunity to be more vulnerable with our families in a way that we haven’t been before,” she said.
Villalobos added that while some moments might not seem joyful, “It’s so important to be a people of hope.”
“We’re still in the Easter season,” he said.
Mazyck added that these times call people ˙to a renewal of what “normal” will become in the upcoming months.
“God is calling us inward, and finding new ways to be with him, to discover Christ and be with each other,” Mazyck said.
A recording of the discussion and more information on future Initiative of Catholic Thought and Public Life talks can be found here.
[This article written by Josephine von Dohlen appeared originally in the Catholic Standard and appears here with the author’s permission.]