COLUMBIA—Is that smartphone in your hand the source of intellectual and spiritual freedom, or a kind of wired bondage? By constantly checking Facebook and Twitter, are we all becoming more connected or really more isolated from each other?
Young people struggled with those questions at the annual Pascua Juvenil event for Hispanic high school students held April 14 at St. John Neumann in Columbia. The day of prayer, workshops and discussion concluded a series of Lenten discussions about how technology affects the lives of the faithful. This year’s Pascua drew 180 students from 10 parishes.
Claretian Father Jorge I. Gallo from Colombia returned as the keynote speaker. He asked the youth to consider whether technology plays a negative or positive role in their lives. For instance, he asked, does surfing the internet, watching TV or sending text messages to friends interfere with time that could be better spent in one-on-one interaction with family and friends or in prayer?
Father Gallo said young people need to be especially careful about pictures, quotes and other things they post to social networking sites. They can come back to haunt a person in the future, he said, because prospective employers and college admissions officials often use the internet to learn more about applicants.
The students discussed ways to use technology to help others and spread the word of God. Some suggestions included using social networking to share daily prayers, Scripture readings or reflections or to reach out to friends and family members who may be going through a rough time. Several said social networking is a positive thing because it can help members of church youth groups stay in better touch about activities, and help young people support each other as they try to live moral lives and not cave into peer pressure.
Social networking can be a double-edged sword, the students said. Many people are able to use Facebook or other sites to post daily feelings and activities, but some use the medium to gossip or intimidate their classmates. Several students said cyber-bullying is a big problem at their schools.
“Bullying on the computer goes against what we believe as Catholics, and as followers of Christ, it’s something we need to stop when we see it happening,” said Monica Medellin, 15, who attends St. John Neumann Church in Columbia. “Instead of using technology to hurt others, we can use it to spread the word of God.”
Brian Serrano, 17, who attends Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek, said the discussions made him think twice about the amount of information he reveals on his Facebook page.
“People who are trying to be popular might post bad pictures of themselves or gossip about other people on their pages, but that just comes from trying to look cool,” he said. “I’m going to learn to hold back on the things I reveal about my life because I know now that what I post today could eventually have an effect on my whole future.”