Holy Cross priest encourages teens to use cell phones for good

By Ann Del Ponte | Special to The Compass | February 17, 2017

‘Create a world that’s salt and light,’ Fr. Wills tells Xavier High students

APPLETON — The students filling Xavier High School’s auditorium seemed wary when the priest told them to take out their cell phones and wave them in the air. But Holy Cross Fr. Nathan Wills wasn’t there to confiscate phones.

As part of his “digital evangelization,” Fr. Wills, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, is encouraging young people to use their digital devices to make the world a better place.

Fr. Nathan Wills

Fr. Wills, 39, spoke to the student body Wednesday morning, Feb. 8, and addressed parents that evening with the same basic message: we can turn the internet from a “worldwide dumpster fire” into a place of encouragement.

“Figure it out for the rest of us,” he told the students. “Create a world that’s salt and light.”

Cell phones, the Internet and social media need to be handled with care, Fr. Wills said. But he is not suggesting that parents ban their use, noting that the Vatican hasn’t said to “shut it down.”

He issued two challenges: create silence in your life and recognize that social media is “the filtered life” and not realistic.

“My worry is that young people think, ‘my life is a blooper reel and everyone else’s life is a highlight reel.’ They think that everyone else is winning,” Fr. Wills said.

Instead, he encouraged the teen-agers to embrace the Christian life and recognize they are part of the Paschal Mystery of life, death and resurrection. “We suffer, but our suffering won’t be in vain,” he said. “When we recognize our need for Christ, that’s the opening. That’s how God gets into our life.”

In an interview, Fr. Wills said parental control software can have a place in the home, but warned that it can give a false sense of security. What can be more effective, he said, is appealing to the child’s sense of responsibility and virtue while setting limits on where and how often the devices are used.

“Sit next to your children when they’re playing video games. Have a conversation about their use of media. Ask them, ‘How does that make you feel,’” he said. “They’ll then be more likely to come to you when they see something online that disturbs them.”

Mike Mauthe,  Xavier principal, said he was a student of Fr. Wills at Notre Dame and he wanted the charismatic priest to bring his message to Appleton so students, parents and faculty could better see the connection between faith and social media.

Fr. Wills’ appearance was sponsored by CIA-Faith Mission Operatives, an all-volunteer lay Catholic ministry located in the Diocese of Green Bay.

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