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 CNS Story:

WYD-SOCIALMEDIA Jul-11-2013 (630 words) xxxn

Undocumented Latino youths to use social media to follow WYD events

Brazilian pilgrims attending World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 cheer as Pope Benedict XVI announces that the next international youth gathering will be held in Rio de Janeiro. The gathering begins in just over 10 days, on July 23. (CNS file/Paul Haring)

By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In between breaks from her two jobs, 20-year-old Melissa Maldonado of Woodbridge, Va., will keep track of goings-on thousands of miles away in Rio de Janeiro using her Samsung smartphone.

As a Catholic, she longs to attend this year's World Youth Day in Brazil but can't make the international trip. She could save up to go but because she's an undocumented immigrant, Maldonado is limited to watching the events unfold online or by watching television.

That's what many U.S.-based Latin American millennials who lack legal immigration documents like Maldonado will do during World Youth Day. Without the ability to leave and enter the U.S. legally, they will not be able to see in person the first Latin American pope deliver a message tailored to their 14-32 age group.

According to a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University, Latinos in the United States like Maldonado make up 54 percent of Catholics of the millennial generation. But it's unknown how many of them lack proper immigration documents that would help them make the trip from the U.S. to an event such as World Youth Day.

Instead, what many of them plan to do is keep track of what Pope Francis has to say to them via social media. Many will use the #WYD hashtag or #JMJ for "Jornada Mundial de la Juventud," the event's Spanish-language equivalent to track, via Twitter or Facebook, what their more fortunate peers who are attending have to say.

The Vatican, aware of the importance of social media to the age group, has offered to grant plenary indulgences to those who participate in rites and spiritual exercises "as they occur via television or radio or ... via the new means of social communication" during the event.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.

Saul Perez, a young undocumented Salvadoran immigrant who lives in Reno, Nev., said it would be a dream to see Pope Francis in person. It would be a pilgrimage he would save money to attend but because he can't travel legally, he said was going to make every effort to hear what the pope says during the event "by Facebook, newspaper, television, whatever it takes."

"What he says carries weight for the youth of today," Perez told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. "He is our great hope. I'm interested to hear what he has to say about the social situation, what he expects of us especially when it comes to conversion."

Father Juan Molina, director of the U.S. bishops' Office for the Church in Latin America, said he is saddened to see so many U.S.-based young Latinos of faith miss out on the opportunity.

"Certainly these events with the Holy Father help increase young people's faith and growth," Father Molina said. "The fact that undocumented young people cannot travel is a loss for them as, even if they can afford the trip financially, they are prevented from doing so due to the lack of proper documentation."

He expressed hope that the United States will be able to settle on "fair and comprehensive immigration reform" so that young people of faith who will be hanging on Pope Francis' every word, albeit from afar, will one day share the experience with their peers.

"I hope and pray our immigration system is changed soon so that these young people can participate in the next WYD," Father Molina said. "The Holy Father is a child of immigrant parents and so he can identify with the immigrant experience. I am sure he will pray for all those people who are forced to migrate because of any reason and undergo trials as they migrate and settle in a new land."


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