In today's digital age, Facebook and other social media platforms have changed the way people interact with one another. However, this also presents the challenge of encouraging the use of said technology in a responsible manner. As the final of four components of the "Forming Disciples" curriculum it began implementing at the beginning of this school year, the diocese is focusing on how parishes use the internet, namely social media, in a constructive manner.
In the context of faith formation, parishes are being encouraged to take advantage of the "vast opportunities we have in the digital playing field," according to Mary Beth Coates, diocesan director of Lifelong Faith Formation. Such tools connect parents with peers via local Facebook groups to promote learning and share information in a group.
"The question of the week is a popular strategy to help people continue considering, talking about and praying about the Sunday reading. That is provided through social media or through other apps," Coates explained.
She noted that at Queen of Heaven Parish in West Seneca, Betsy Amico, director of youth ministry, sends out texts to the families of her middle students while they are in her sessions. When parents pick them up, they know what was discussed during the lesson and have something to talk about on the car ride home.
"She gives them a question to talk about in the car on the way home. It continues the learning opportunity, as well as helps parents have a meaningful dialogue with their children about something that is important," said Maureen Poulin, associate director of Lifelong Faith Formation for the diocese.
On May 8, 2016, that year's World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis noted that "emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication," and that "it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal." The pope stressed the importance of positive discourse on a platform where people often attack each other if they do not agree on a hot-button issue.
"The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor, whom we do not see, but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing," Pope Francis said.
Along with the other three parts of "Forming Disciples," covered in previous issues of the Western New York Catholic, diocesan and parish leaders hope to see what needs to be done in order to connect with the faithful and help them.
"What we're hoping people are starting to see, by identifying these four components, is that to accomplish the goals of this curriculum ... planners really have to look all of life, all of a person's life and parish life, to see where Christ is and where our faith can be extended," Coates said.
For more information about this or any other component of the "Forming Disciples" faith formation curriculum, contact your parish's faith formation director or the department of Lifelong Faith Formation at LLFF@buffalodiocese.org.