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10/23/2012 9:22:00 AM
Social media extend opportunities to teach faith, morals, justice
St. Mary's Academy photo
Allison Nasson, Isabela Villarreal, Catherine Mattecheck, Olivia Hinerfeld and Iris Dowd speak during walk to raise awareness about human trafficking. The St. Mary's Academy students used social media to promote the gathering.
St. Mary's Academy photo
Allison Nasson, Isabela Villarreal, Catherine Mattecheck, Olivia Hinerfeld and Iris Dowd speak during walk to raise awareness about human trafficking. The St. Mary's Academy students used social media to promote the gathering.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

A women's faith support group at Jesuit High School in Portland keeps a communal Facebook page. Members of the 300-strong student association, called the Setons, post prayers, prayer intentions and inspirational videos, songs and poems. The posts come at any time — at night, on weekends, over the summer.

When a Seton seeks the prayers of others, she gets immediate support and feedback from the other members in the form of “likes” or comments such as “Hang in there”, “I am with you”, “I am praying for you,” or “What can I do to support you?”   

It's one of dozens of ways Oregon Catholic schools are using social media to further faith, morals and social justice.

"It's truly beautiful to witness such love and support between high school peers," says Erin DeKlotz, director of admissions and director of the Setons. "The wonderful thing about this is that the support and group connection is not confined to the two hours per month that we meet. The girls in the group know that they always have someone who will hear their concerns and respond."

Father Paul Grubb is one of three Jesuits who teach freshman faith formation at the 1,200-student school. In March and April, they lead a unit on social media. Topics include cyber ethics, cyber bullying, sexual ethics, consumerism, materialism and idolatry.

"In general we hope for our students to come to a healthy place in their online presence and to use technology for the greater glory of God rather than as merely personal entertainment or even exploitation," Father Grubb says.

At St. Mary's Academy in Portland, five students are using Facebook and Twitter as the primary tools for building a community to address human trafficking. Their non-profit, called Youth Ending Slavery (YES), is holding public events to educate and raise awareness. Allison Nasson, the senior who founded the group, is an artist who posts images meant to express the urgency of the crisis.

The team combines social media with old-fashioned community meetings and marches.

At St. Mary's, Facebook is a common source for sign ups and information for campus ministry, community service and environmental action. Each of the groups has a student-maintained page.

Maria Fleming, a religion teacher and group advisor, says Facebook provides a "non-threatening way" for students to investigate campus ministry and service. She explains that the social network can't replace meetings, discussion, ministry and service, but does simplify promotion and organization.

The networks also make expressions of faith go farther. Last month, Fleming posted a photo of St. Mary's students who were marking International Day of Peace.

Students held signs, including an image of the world held in hands with the words “Our Concern” and a picture of people of various skin shades holding hands. Posted on email and Facebook, the photo was seen as a statement of belief and solidarity during a time of violence, especially in the Middle East. The posting sparked a lot of conversation.  

De La Salle North Catholic High School posts the daily prayer in the Facebook feed.
Here's the Oct. 9 prayer, written by two juniors:

"Holy Spirit, creative energy of passion and love, life embracing, life transforming, heal our bodies, heal our souls, heal our relationships, heal our nations, heal our hearts. Breathing in, the Spirit heals; breathing out, it is good to be alive. Amen."
Colleen O’Mahony, a member of St. Clare Parish, has signed up to get the feed sent automatically to her own Facebook page.

“I wish I took time every morning to seek out a focusing prayer, but the reality is that I rarely remember to," O'Mahony says. "Having the daily prayer from De La Salle North on my Facebook feed fills that gap; it comes right to me — a welcome respite from all the mindless stuff on there — and is typically really topical and thought-provoking."

De La Salle's Facebook page includes  a link to a foundation that serves children in rural northern Uganda.

Blanchet Catholic School in Salem uses Facebook to post photos and news stories on service projects. A recent post explained a massive day of doing good — more than 385 Blanchet volunteers helped at 21 agencies in the region.

First graders at the Madeleine School in Northeast Portland are Tweeting. Their usual topics come from what they've been learning in religion.

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