Hacking pastoral care: Youth synod bishops talk technology

Bishop David Tencer points at a journalist while asking questions at an Oct. 17 press conference. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Bishop David Tencer points at a journalist while asking questions at an Oct. 17 press conference. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

.- Smartphone apps and Skype have transformed the way at least one synod bishop conducts his pastoral ministry with young people.

Bishop David Bartimej Tencer of Reykjavík said Wednesday that digital technologies help him to overcome the geographical challenges that come from shepherding a diocese spread over 40,000 square miles in Iceland.

“The church is moving forward thanks to the digital world,” Bishop Tencer said at a Vatican press conference Oct. 17.

Bishops have discussed how the Church can better extend missionary outreach and pastoral care to young people online during the 2018 Synod of Bishops, which is focused on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.

“‘Digital pastoral care’ --  how the church can be active in the world of social media,” was an important conversation topic in the synod hall Wednesday, according to Paolo Ruffini, head of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications.

This included “being a missionary in the digital world,” he said.

Bishop Tencer, who has used Skype to catechise his diocese, said that in his experience, the “contact was very real with these kids.”

The Reykjavík bishop also said that the young people responded positively to his Android app Bible challenges.

“I said, ‘You know, guys, next week, you all have to download using your Android phone or whatever,” continued Bishop Tencer, “and they all downloaded it.”

“Then I asked the kids, ‘Find in the Bible where God is whistling to the bees,” the bishop went on. “My kids found this, no problem.”

Bishop Tencer said he was surprised to find that conversations surrounding technology in the synod hall have been very positive, despite the fact that the average age of the synod fathers is above 60.

The internet is “a neutral medium,” Tencer concluded.

Prior to the 2018 synod, youth around the globe submitted 150,000 online surveys answering questions regarding morality, faith and life. These responses were analyzed by an Italian university using an algorithm.

The discussion of technology in the youth synod’s Instrumentum Laboris included both enthusiasm for technology's potential, as well as caution for its unintended consequences.

“Technology can be detrimental to human dignity if not used with conscience and caution and if human dignity is not at the center of its usage,” the document says, making particular reference to the fields of bioethics and artificial intelligence.

The pre-synod document also warns against the “isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom” that can come from young people’s obsessive consumption of media, in addition to the long-term risks of a “loss of creativity” and concentration.

“While technology has, for some, augmented our relationships, for many others it has taken the form of an addiction, becoming a replacement for human relationship and even God.”

Tags: Catholic News, Technology, Bishop David Tencer, Youth Synod 2018