One group’s mission: To reclaim and restore culture

The Culture Project International began in 2014 when a group of 30 friends came together as a community in search of a way to revitalize and restore the culture. “We had all been out in the culture, we tried it, and we really found it wanting,” Cristina Barba, executive director of The Culture Project, told Our Sunday Visitor recently. “We came together as a group, as a community to say, ‘What can we do?’”

The group developed an organization that invites recent college graduates to commit to one year of formation, living in community and ministering to youth via talks on human sexuality, life and love. They fundraise their own salaries, commit to a rigorous prayer schedule, and they participate in an intense formation program. The philosophy of their work is based on four pillars: community, prayer, formation and work.

With their headquarters in Philadelphia, the apostolate has hubs in Los Angeles and Toledo, Ohio, with a travel team based in San Francisco.

OSV sat down with Barba to discuss some of the challenges in today’s culture and how Catholics can face them.

Our Sunday Visitor: What do you think are the three biggest cultural challenges today?

Cristina Barba: Family and marriage breakdown, technology and isolationism. [Regarding the family], we don’t have anything that’s steady and stable anymore. The home is the first place where you learn basics about being human and love, forgiveness, mercy. Without that, I think we’re really in a rough, rocky spot. No wonder everyone is insecure and doesn’t have a sense of themselves.

Technology is awesome and awful at the same time. At our fingertips, we have the whole universe accessible and available to us, but we don’t even know how to use it. And we don’t know how to properly wield this tool. Little kiddos have access to smartphones and iPads and internet, so anything can enter into your home easily.

[As for] isolationism, technology allows it, but [it’s also a result of] families breaking down. People have lost sight of how to make friendships. We’re more interconnected than ever, but we’re more isolated that ever.

On a Mission
Cristina Barba has spent the majority of her life advocating for life and chastity. Raised in a Catholic home, she was struck at a young age by the horror of abortion and began speaking out against it as young as 10 years old. When doing research in high school, she discovered that 87 percent of abortions were performed on unmarried women. “The light bulb went off,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “We don’t have an abortion issue as much as we have a sex issue. If people were living according to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, this is a huge problem we wouldn’t have to be dealing with.” In various capacities, she devoted her life to educating others about these teachings. These efforts culminated in The Culture Project, which formed in 2014.

OSV: What can we do?

Barba: First of all, with technology, social media, our phones, [we can] remember that they, in and of themselves, are morally neutral ... but, like anything, it can be used in a wrong way and abused, and most often young people are using it in a very wrong way. We really encourage young people to just start to be aware, even just to build a conscientiousness [about how much time they spend on social media]. How often am I on my phone or on my laptop? How often am I scrolling through Facebook? Am I spending hours a day doing this? Why am I picking up my phone to post or to message? Then to go to the next level: Why are you using these things, and then how should you be using these things? Once you do an analysis on yourself, you can make a decision. Start with one day a month and leave your phone behind. Something simple. Or a lot of friends have done this: They have a basket and as soon as they get home, they put their phone in a basket. It’s left somewhere else so that you have time, even if it’s just starting with meals. It should be a given, but during a family meal or a meal with friends, you put your phone away. You don’t use your phone, you talk to people in front of you. Doing tiny things to lessen the attachment and to be present to the people right in front of you, I think, is huge.

[Regarding isolationism], community is key. For young families, try to find other young families that have similar ideas and actually build little communities together. You can’t wait around for someone to fix these problems; it’s up to you, it’s up to me. We can complain all day and night about the state of our culture, but if we don’t do anything, we’re just as much to blame. Also make sure you have good friends in the same state of life, but also in the other states of life. We all need each. The more that we can see the whole picture, the more content we are. 

[For marriage and family], encounter. People are longing to be seen, touched, heard. Encounter is physically seeing the other and letting them know they’re seen and they’re heard and they’re met where they are. Encounter is not an excuse to meet people where they are and stay there. You meet people where they are and then you accompany them. If you love someone and they’re sitting in a pile of mud, you don’t let them stay in a pile of mud; you bend down for them (and you) get clean.

OSV: How do you ease fears of parents raising kids today? 

Barba: It is daunting what’s happening outside, but the biggest change can happen within your home. I really do think it’s the simple things: a family that loves one another, that forgives each other because we’re going to screw up. It’s having meals together; it’s sharing life together. It’s courageous to have a family today, but I think it’s the most simple solution, actually, for the problem. We can’t be so afraid as to what our kids are going to go out into, we just have to love them fiercely and then, as best as we can, share our faith and try to form these little communities of hope and find friends that are going to help and support other young families.

OSV: How do you see your work fitting into the mission and message of this October’s synod on young people?

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Barba: I do feel like we dovetail very well. It’s really just this resurgence to finding faith-filled communities, finding mentors, finding fiends. I think that’s what the youth of today really are longing for and need. They’re longing to belong and to fit in and then to have mentors and role models. I think our work very much fits in with this whole synod, because we, I think, acknowledge the state of our culture and that really the “nones” are the majority of people today. And I think the synod is really geared toward that. I just hope that with the synod we set the bar high. I hope that it really lives up to calling young people to greatness; I think that’s something that’s super-missing. I hope that the synod gets to the root of things and actually challenges young people, because that’s what they need and want.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.