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Evangelization through Electronic Communication

As a Mother, the Church welcomes and watches such inventions with special concern. Chief among them is those which by their very nature can reach and influence not only individual men, but the masses themselves, even the whole of society.

Evangelization through Electronic Communication

By Neha Joseph
The Catholic Church is committed to electronic communication. This was underscored when Pope Francis met Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, in 2016 as the pontiff’s message for the World Day of Social Communications was released. Earlier he had also met Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet.

Pope Francis talks with Apple CEO Tim Cook during a private audience in the Vatican, on Jan. 22, 2016

Accenture, a global management consulting and professional services firm, has helped the Vatican reconstruct its communication channels to meet the modern needs of its followers. “Communication is the core activity of the Church,” stated Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, in October 2015 while addressing Ireland’s Maynooth University to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Communications Office.

Appropriately titled, ‘The Church in a Digital World – Sharing the Word of God,’ the Dublin priest’s talk shared some ideas pertinent for the Church to operate in the digital age and the importance of communications in the life of the Church. Underlining that the Church was founded to proclaim a message, Monsignor Tighe said bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth required the Church to be inclusive, universal and willing to reach out in order to avoid just talking to itself.

“At the core of our missionary activity is the call to communicate and engage in discussion, dialogue and debate with those who are outside our traditional areas of interest,” his words resonated across the electronic communication systems turning them into an evangelization effort in itself. Every relationship begins with a communication and without communication there is no relationship. In fact, evangelization means establishing a relationship between Jesus and people through communication, and here we can say through electronic communication which the Church always looked at positively.

The Vatican Second Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication makes it very clear: “As a Mother, the Church welcomes and watches such inventions with special concern. Chief among them is those which by their very nature can reach and influence not only individual men, but the masses themselves, even the whole of society.”

Communication has the power to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. It is so wonderful when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony.This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.

Today technology has brought the world closer. It has become so easy to express your feelings to the person sitting at the other corner of the world through social media. The words of Christians should be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where their faith is being challenged; they should never try to rift relationships and communication.

Ecumenism movement itself is to widen that communion. In the early life of the Church, the great Apostles brought the Good News of Jesus to different parts of the world. At that time too, a fruitful evangelization required under standing of the faith, culture and traditions of those people so that the truth of the Gospel would touch their minds and hearts. Today also the proclamation of Christ in the world of new technologies requires a profound knowledge of this world if the technologies are to serve our mission adequately.

During his 2010 World Communications Day speech, Pope Benedict XVI declared that, “Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources – images, videos, animated features, blogs,web sites – which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis”.

Pope Benedict XVI

Primarily, this direct call for the involvement and utilization of media by a religionis not something that has been a standard focus of the relationship between religion and media in the Western world. Rather, the relationship between religion and media has often been illustrated as a competition.

Media, today, is considered a major weapon in influencing people. Whether it is acontrast between the religions and technology as informers of culture, a conflict between the non-Christian media and the Christian media, or the intentional effort by media to replace a Christian world view with a secular understanding, there may, well, exist a clear tension between religion and media.

However, a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Catholic Church and media is needed to understand Pope Benedict’s statement. The Catholic mediahas responded well to this challenge. Much good work has been done by traditional media in developing a presence in the digital sphere and inachieving the necessary convergences to make their content available also on the World Wide Web. After meeting Apple’s Cook, Pope Francis hailed the Internet, text messages and social networks as gift from God.

“Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups,” the pontiff emphasized.

There is a deep exemplification of the digital age. John’s Gospel opens with the Word being present with God and communicating with God. That Word is associated with light and life and creativity, the very hallmarks of the digital age. The Word is transmitted to the world, incarnating among us as a glorious communication of our heavenly Father’s love.

As Catholics, our mission starts with the world in which we find ourselves. It is incarnational or contextual. Our use of media needs to reflect not the media of the past but the media of the every day. Just as Jesus used the messages of contemporary Palestine, the images of the world around him at that time, the language forms of the day, so we must also reflect the world around us through social media, which we, the Church, wish to share with the world today.

The digital space is said to be open and liberated- it does not automatically recognize the contributions of established authorities or institutions. This is a challenge from electronic communications. According to this challenge, authority has to be earned, not acquired naturally. This means that Church leaders, like other leaders have to find new forms of communication to be effective in 21st century.

The Church cannot refuse to speak digitally and if she does so she would be ignoring one of the biggest means of communication running the risk of becoming irrelevant. The statistics show billions of people being online several hours a day. The Church is called to engage with the world like the first apostles and be a light to all nations.

At Accenture, we worked with the Pope’s newly created Dicastery: Segreteria per la Comunicazione (SPC) to deliver a new communications system under a single brand: Vatican News. But this was about more than simply redesigning the Vatican’s digital communications channels. It was about offering a new intimacy with The Holy See, providing Pope Francis greater alignment over his message, and, most importantly, giving more accessibility to the Holy Father’s message.

A press release from Accenture informs that ‘recognizing the shifting media landscape and the evolving digital culture, Pope Francis wanted to find a way to transform the Holy See’s communications—from consolidating a range of independent communication channels to a new operating model’.

The Vatican has completely reshaped its communications, from internal operations to external messaging, both written and visual. And it’s truly shown how to use the power of digital for the greater good of its followers. For instance, while new capabilities now allow the Vatican to more seamlessly reach followers through new social channels, they also allow for adjusting to local internet and radio band width to allow the Pope’s message to reach Catholics living in underdeveloped regions.

All this has created new familiarity with The Holy See, and has given Pope Francis a voice closer to the people. It has enabled the Vatican to not only create a new online identity, but a digital source of content where one spiritual word is more simply and fluidly reaching believers of diverse cultures, all over the world.

February 12, 2018, was the 87th anniversary of the first radio broadcast of a Pope from Vatican Radio. Pope Pius XI and the great inventor Guglielmo Marconi came together to create the new tool of evangelization that had the potential ofreaching every nation on earth.

Marconi personally introduced the first radio broadcast of a Pope, when he stood next to Pope Pius XI before the microphone and said: “With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father.”

Vatican Radio, born on February 12, 1931, thus celebrates its 87 years of existence, looking ahead: with 45 languages regularly used on air, and 38 languages in the website; with a staff of 355, mostly lay people, of 59 nationalities; with over 66 hours of daily broadcasting.

The Church needs a bold media to expose mistakes and failures aiming to challenge the community of believers when they go wrong and thus to bring them back to the path of conversion. This way, the Church will be more fully what it is called to be by Jesus - a community that witnesses credibly in word and deed to the abiding love of God the Father. And that is the crux of evangelization.

(Neha Joseph is a graduate in Electronics and Communication and an associate software engineer with Accenture, Pune, India)

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