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Millennials and video-cameras inside the convent. Discovering the lives of nuns and priests through questions on vocation

A different way of learning about the life of all those consecrated to charity and prayer. Noteworthy examples presented on TV programs and social media in Germany, Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom. With interesting insights also in view of the Synod for Young People

Narrating the life of a consecrated person or enabling young people to exchange views with their peers who decided to devote their life to God: today these experiences attract great media attention. The initiative can give a significant contribution also to educational and pastoral realms, especially with regard to the Synod of young people, convened for next year by Pope Francis, centred on the theme of vocations.

“Bad habits, holy orders.” Five “party girls” with heavy make-up and succinct clothing – when compared to the attire of the nuns – were welcomed by the “Daughters of the Divine Charity” in the convent of Norfolk and Swaffham (United Kingdom) for two weeks, leaving behind their mobile phones, make-up or parties of all sorts. The young women led the life of the nuns and helped them in their activities. The first of four episodes of “Bad Habits, holy Orders”, broadcast October 19 on Channel 5, follows the life of these young women unsatisfied with their own lives who, unknowingly, are brought to the convent of Swaffham. The purpose of the programme is “not to point a finger against the young millennials. Rather, it’s a way to ask a set of serious questions on how we lead our lives”, said the editor, Guy Davies.

Realistic portrait. It’s the first time – the bishops’ press office wrote in a release – that video-cameras enter an English convent. And perhaps it’s the first time that only women are filmed and only women do the filming. The only thing that the young women and the nuns have in common when they meet is their black and white clothing. Even the length of their skirts differs. “The young women were told they would undertake a spiritual journey, but they weren’t told where. They were brought here one by one, and they didn’t expect they would be brought to a convent”, said Sister Francis Ridler, who is also the headmistress of the school run by the nuns. The young women were fully involved in the daily life of the nuns. It’s a very realistic portrait, and despite some moments of difficulty, we think it provides an honest, positive image of the Church,” remarked Sister Francis.  A difficult moment was when one of the young women brought a bottle of vodka to the convent. After a lengthy discussion, the bottle was emptied in the sink. “I was equally sorry about wasting it as I was about the fact that they had brought it to the convent”, the nun said with a laugh. “This programme brought the lives of the nuns inside people’s homes; it will help people learn more about our daily life and commitments. We believe that it was a significant experience also for these young women.”

Becoming nuns… Five young girls – filmed with video-cameras – entered the convent last year in Spain, as part of the programme “I want to become a nun”, broadcast by the Spanish TV channel Cuatro, based on the US TV-format “The sisterhood: becoming nuns”. They stayed there six weeks in three different religious homes, in Madrid, Alicante, and Granada. The show

follows the path of discernment of five young women, more “sober” than their English peers,

who discussed whether to fully commit themselves to religious life. At the end of the six episodes, two of these young women decided to devote their life to the service of God. It was a “unique experience: these five girls undertook a journey of maturation which they began full of questions and doubts, and concluded it with the certainty of having the answer to some of their questions”, wrote the producer at the end of the programme.

Video on social networks. In fact, while until two decades ago it was almost normal to cross the paths of nuns or priests and learn something about their mission, today, owing to the crisis in vocations and to increasingly less occasions in the oratory and in the parish, the life of a person who decides to consecrate him/herself to God is not always obvious. For this reason young men and women religious in Austria have decided to upload set of short videos on social networks, in which two young nuns and two priests of four different religious orders share something about their religious path and of their everyday life.The first video was posted on October 4: in turn, each one of them speaks about their choice and the first steps of their vocation. “People want to learn more about religious life”, said Ferdinand Kaineder, director of the press office of the Union of Religious Orders, in an interview with Austrian news agency Kathpress.  All four, all of them under 35, shared something about their life and explained how it felt wearing the religious habit for the first time, how to pray, how to use WhatsApp or how to live in the community.

“God offsides.” In Germany, for an entire year, Valerie Schönian, a young journalist, followed and described in a blog and in a video the life of a young priest, Franziskus von Boeselager. Through those dialogues and meetings,  she delved into the meaning of a life of faith. The TV series “Valerie and the priest”  was an initiative of the Centre for Pastoral Care of Young People of the German Bishops’ Conference. The last video was supposed to be broadcast at the end of August, but owing to the great interest it raised, Valerie handed the coordination of the project to her young colleague, Timm Giesbers. Timm said that “he didn’t know much about the Church before then” but he was attracted by the opportunity of personally learning more about the Church through the stories of those who “live the Church concretely and not only in theory.” So week after week he filmed the life of the priest in Frankfurt, together with the nuns of the Sacred Heart devoted to caring for the homeless, to seek to understand the reason for this way of life. The program is titled “God offsides.”

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