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World Youth Day and the selfie

Many things can be said about the recent World Youth Day in Poland; the hospitality; the enthusiasm of the young people; Pope Francis and his electrifying smile, the depth of his message, his fall (which could happen to anyone); the Catholic impact on the Polish culture; the universal character of the Church and more.

Alongside the material souvenirs, I trust there are spiritual and cultural ones that we would like to share with others. New friendships were made, new insights were added to our perception of faith and new things were seen. It happens this way with new experiences. 

Among the many things we saw I noted one thing that I would like to share with you. It is not new, but another look at it can help shape a fresh understanding of some of the things we do. It is the selfie. 

This phenomenon does not need to be defined in complex terms, as it has become part of the setting; one of the ways to immortalise an event, a gathering or a special moment with friends and relatives.

It symbolises a kind of spirit that is not easy to define at first. The selfie is a spirit, a mystery, a trend. The instant joy it brings cannot be easily understood. 

On the one hand, some have tried to link the selfie to a selfish spirit, an attitude that precludes the need other people’s help, yet on the other hand, it is seen as a way of spreading happiness by bringing in something new, an action that can draw a few smiles as people gather to take the shot.

Those who push the selfish mind card find themselves opposed to those who believe that the selfie can be, on a positive note, a way of achieving something simple without disturbing others. But in the end, it all depends on where we stand.

This sharing tries to focus more on what the selfie can offer, or what we can learn from it, since it has become one of the things that characterises our time. 

From Pope Francis to the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama; from Hollywood stars to ordinary, everyday people, we can’t help but think that there is something that can be said about the phenomenon. 

To see people taking selfies and sharing the joy only makes me believe that new ways of living and doing things are an integral part of evangelisation. So what is it that I personally would like to share with you?


The selfie and the smile

The selfie elicits the smile that sometimes does not come easily to some faces. Whether or not this is an expression of inner joy is another matter. But when someone takes a selfie or is invited to join a group photo, the first thing that we observe is a good look or, in many cases, a good smile, the instant joy.

Why is that so? Because it is not easy to look at yourself in a picture and at the same time maintain a disconnected look, unless there are some serious reasons behind such a grave expression.

Therefore, we take care of the image by working on it in such a way that it will not frustrate those who see the picture later on. 

Dear young people, the joy of the selfie was obvious in Poland. Needless to say, our lives need to be identified by the same joy wherever we are and simultaneously give us good reasons to remain optimistic and happy about this life that is God’s gift.

Here, the selfie can tell us that smiling adds beauty even in the midst of trials and tribulations. It could be that we only smile for the sake of the selfie and go back to our different moods once the photo has been taken.

No matter, the selfie has taught us to smile. May this smile remain an attitude of life.

In addition, the selfie is an open invitation. In many cases, I witnessed the selfie as an open invitation to all; something that attracts even strangers and those who are not directly involved in it.

The selfie can be inclusive, without discrimination, giving a chance to anyone who wishes to appear in the shot.

I saw people taking selfies with people from different horizons and backgrounds without paying attention to their race, origin or social status.

What appeared to be important was the friendship, the universal fellowship with Jesus, who was the main reason for our presence in Poland.

Of course, not all the pictures taken during World Youth Day were selfies. But with the selfie, I saw something special: even those who were eating, or busy doing something else, or talking about something important were able to stop for a while once they saw or heard that a selfie was going to be taken.

Again, race, background or social condition did not matter. We enjoyed being together as citizens of the earth, the children of God. 

Dear young people and selfie-takers, the best thing was seeing the spirit of unity, which was celebrated, enjoyed and felt, spreading far beyond Poland.

But now that World Youth Day is over, what should our attitude be towards others, especially in those cities with many different races and people from different backgrounds?

Do I keep the selfie spirit of bringing people together, or do I exploit my difference to take advantage of others?

When it comes to the elections for example, do I vote according to the candidate’s competence or according to the way they look, even though I know that the candidate’s ability to perform is often questionable?

Since we have learned from the selfie about the importance of togetherness, may this spirit become an integral part of our lives, strongly believing that the spirit of Jesus’ prayer, “That they may all be one…” (John 17:21), will always be alive in our midst and can be of great help. The best way to fight the evil of discrimination is to live Jesus’ message with conviction. 


The selfie and the cut

Sometimes the selfie-taker will even exclude themselves or a part of their face just to include others inside the frame.

Here, I see the spirit of sacrifice, in that although I am the one taking the shot, what matters most is not me, but the people I would like to keep in my memory.

People who use a selfie stick can take a better shot since the length of the stick helps to get perspective, while others are the limited by the length of their arm.

But the lesson we learn is quite appealing; to sacrifice for something more important than self-centred attention. 

This notion of sacrifice was and is still the subject of many important studies and talks. However, its full importance will only flower when we agree to make a move and live its spirit in our daily lives. 

Sacrifices are made up of small acts, as this unknown author writes, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Yes, we were millions in Poland and it goes without saying that we can transform the world... and we can continue this spirit of sacrifice wherever we are as we joyfully did in Poland; we walked for long distances, we put the needs of the group ahead of our personal priorities, we adjusted to the pace of the community, we slept in the meadow, we overcame the language barriers and the weather.

These things brought us tremendous joy and showed that we are capable of making sacrifices that can have an impact on the lives of others.

I have put the emphasis on the selfie and its ability to bring people together.

However, at a deeper level, it is about the person, for it is the person that takes the initiative. It is the person that is invited to include others, to smile and to sacrifice for the good of others.

This sharing is not an apology for the selfie, but an attempt to give meaning to what we are doing and to learn from it.

Not all new things are bad in themselves. It all depends on how we use them. May unity, joy and sacrifice be the ways to everlasting happiness.



Father Dominique Mukonda CICM