Chris Stefanick on World Youth Day, the ‘Pandemic of Loneliness,’ and Blessed Chiara Badano

World Youth Day ‘shows us that Jesus Christ is alive and well and moving in the hearts of young people,’ says Catholic youth speaker.

EWTN host, author, and Catholic father Chris Stefanick  reminds us that  Blessed Chiara Badano, a World Youth Day patron saint, is 'the first blessed of this generation.'
EWTN host, author, and Catholic father Chris Stefanick reminds us that Blessed Chiara Badano, a World Youth Day patron saint, is 'the first blessed of this generation.' (photo: Courtesy photo / Chris Stefanick/EWTN/Public Domain )

As millions of youth are preparing for a pilgrimage to Portugal for World Youth Day 2023, the stakes are high when considering the recent statistics on depression and loneliness among teens and young adults. Staggering rates of suicide attempts and mental-health issues cloud many young hearts and minds, not to mention the disheartening daily news headlines. 

So many young people have had profound experiences when attending World Youth Day — conversions of heart, lifelong friendships and marriages are just some of the fruits of these worldwide calls to Catholics to journey together in the hope of igniting a deeper desire to know Jesus. 

That’s why Chris Stefanick thinks World Youth Day is an amazing opportunity “that shows us that Jesus Christ is alive and well and moving in the hearts of young people” — especially for younger generations grappling with existential questions like “Why do I exist?” Or “Do I become more than dust when I die?" in an era that believes God is not important.

The Catholic father, speaker and author shared with the Register the importance of friendship, how to combat what he dubs the “pandemic of loneliness,” and why everyone should know about Blessed Chiara, “the first ‘Blessed’ of this generation.” Stefanick also discusses his latest book, Living Joy: 9 Rules to Help You Rediscover and Live Joy Every Day


As rates of suicide and depression have been sky-high for teens this past year, especially with reports of loneliness on the rise, how can youth and young adults take this moment ahead of World Youth Day to build and grow in community, reaching out to those in most need?

Every sociological study on mental health shows it declining, fast, side by side with faith. So, while many see the decrease in religious practice among Gen Z and ponder, “Do we still need religion anymore?” the stats seem to be answering with a resounding, “Yes!”

In fact, the first year Gen Z entered college was 2016. More than 50% of incoming freshman self reported as feeling “below average” in mental health. 

I think there are two reasons for that decline. 

First, you simply can’t be happy without your fundamental questions about life being answered. Young people have gotten great at pushing off the questions, or distracting themselves until they’ve forgotten them. But deep down, they’re still there: “Why do I exist? What on earth am I here for? Do I become more than dust when I die? Do I matter, ultimately?”

Only faith in a God who loves us offers positive answers to those questions. 

And, second, people find meaningful community at church ... a group of people brought together by a higher ideal and mobilized to make a difference. 

Even from a purely secular point of view, this has a powerful impact on mental health. A Harvard study revealed that the No. 1 factor that impacts if someone is thriving in old age, more than genetics, is meaningful connections with other people. 

There is a loneliness pandemic right now that no one seems to be talking about. 

World Youth Day offers answers to both of those problems.


The loneliness epidemic seems to be spurred on by the dark clutches of social media and devices. You talk in your most recent book about your own experience visiting hermits when you were a young; what you learned. What are some of the ways to help us step away and detach? And how can these moments be a road map to our own interior life?

We need the soil of silence for a joyful life; because without silence there is no room for living out the other rules for a joyful life, like gratitude: How can you even notice the things to be grateful for, like friendship; how can you actually form friendship if you’re crowding someone with all your noise? 

So we absolutely need silence as a precursor for so many other things that we need to live a life of joy and a life of meaning. 

But wake up to the fact that silence is being robbed from you [by] the internet. You are a user. And the thing that they sell you is they sell your attention ... without any regard for your happiness, for your joy, for your peace of mind. ... So many people are unaware of this. There’s a causal relationship of your attention being stolen from you, silence being plucked out of your soul, with all these other issues, and with being robbed of happiness. So we absolutely have to engage, be aware that the battle is happening, and start engaging it intentionally and placing strict limits [on tech use]. 



On the topic of friendship, you bring up in your book this beautiful, mutually symbiotic relationship I just loved, in Haiti, between the elderly and children at an orphanage. I think this really pertains to not only living joy, but discovering joy, as you call us to go deeper in our relationships with others.

My work with dear friends over there from Haiti 180: They started a home for the dying because there were people dying in the hillsides, and they literally would just die alone. So they bring them to this home to die comfortably, in hospice. And there’s an orphanage. That’s the primary mission that they run. The kids in the orphanage started playing with people in the hospice, and the people in the hospice stopped dying. And it became an old-age home. 

There’s this incredible health impact of interaction with other people, of friendship. They’ve found that loneliness is more dangerous for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Wow. There’s a Harvard study done, over the course of 80 years, one of the longest studies ever done, and they wanted to find out what sets people up in their old age for thriving, for health, for happiness. And they were doing everything from measuring the cranium to measuring cholesterol; overwhelmingly, the No. 1  thing that was found: relationships that were healthy, that were thriving, that were deep, that were supportive. That’s not just romantic relationships, but friendships, community: There’s a health impact. And there’s a spiritual impact. 

This is something Our Lord called us to be intentional about — not just hanging out, but being, doing what he did. So we need to do this for our health; we do it for spiritual renewal. I get together once a month with three other guys, and we just spiritually check in: “How are you? What’s going on in your life? How can I pray for you?”


You have a real love for Blessed Chiara Badano, a light to so many during her own suffering, and one of the patrons of this World Youth Day. Can you tell us about her? She was moved to service with all that she had; it actually reminded me of Mother Angelica here at EWTN.

Chiara grew up in Italy and loved to rock climb, loved to play tennis; and one day, she’s playing tennis. She had excruciating pain in her  shoulder; she dropped her tennis racquet and got some tests on the shoulder. She had a rare form of bone cancer. Her constant prayer was: “Jesus, if this is what you want, this is what I want.” And if you google pictures of her, you will see pictures of her in the hospital. She walked around, counseling depressed patients in the hospital. This one cardinal of the Church visited her; he said: “The light in your eyes is amazing. Where does it come from?” She said, “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.” Her last words were: “Goodbye; be happy because I am.” 

Look at the picture of her on her deathbed: this beaming light from her face ... a witness to the real joy of having the Spirit. She also said, “I have nothing left, but I have my heart. And with that I can love.” 

She had nothing in her life that circumstantially would make her super happy. She was losing everything — everything she dreamt of being: She wanted to be a flight attendant. She wanted to get married, to have kids; all these dreams that a young person has were all going away. She wasn’t gonna get any of it. But she had a mission that continued even when she couldn’t walk anymore: to continue to love. She’s the first “Blessed” of this generation.



As a convert, I find Catholicism offers so many ways to frame your mind: daily Mass, the sacraments, celebrating saints and blesseds. Can you tell us how we can best frame our minds on faith by looking to St. Joseph? 

The way he lived daily life wasn’t segmented; he worked with Jesus. He woke up in the morning; he rolled over. Whose face was there? The Blessed Mother. This was how he lived his life. There was an immersion in the stuff of God.

And this is what Catholicism is supposed to do for us. You mentioned a serious advantage we have as Catholics: We have the smells, the bells, the incense, the icons hanging in our house, the Rosary — all these different practices — the liturgy. All these things draw us in, not just to add holiness to our already-busy lives, but to help us see all of life differently. 

St. Paul wrote from prison; you want to talk about circumstances that will drag you down. He wrote: “Set your mind on things above, not on things of earth.” 

The Catholic faith makes it easy for us to do what St. Joseph did: to roll over to see the Blessed Mother, to see Jesus. And this makes life amazing and makes life awesome ... about living joy. 

The world is constantly telling people to have positivity; have a great attitude; believe in yourself; love yourself — but they don’t have the right framework for how to see life. And that’s why their advice is falling on deaf ears. 

We’ve never told young people more frequently to “believe in yourself,” but from a secular worldview, where there’s no God, no purpose, or you are a lump of self-aware molecules and your destiny is nothing … or maybe there’s some vague sense of the universe looking out for you and you’ll go back into the universe, what does that even mean? This is not a cause for hope, for gratitude, for joy. 

I mean, every rule in my book for living joy is dependent on this one: that we have actually a compelling reason to rejoice. And that’s when we look at our lives through the eyes of faith, through the vantage point of the things of God.

And then you will examine your daily circumstance in light of that vantage point: that your life isn’t a story written by a pain in your marriage, by divorce, by cancer, by abuse, by your loss of your job, by any of these things. 

Those are all reduced to pages in a bigger story, which is the love story of God, a God who created you out of love, redeemed you on the cross and wants you to live in eternal glory. 

This is the story we’re living in. This is the best news ever.