• October 16, 2019
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INTRODUCTION

 

In the gospel of St. Matthew chapter 28 Vs 19-20 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. One can spontaneously add Amen to this divine mandate. To carry out this injunction in our own age in contrast to the time of Jesus, we discovered that we may no longer necessarily need to leave our houses or be in a Church set up.

 

We Catholics believe that Jesus is the Word of God and our call as a Church is to be evangelizers-bring Jesus to the people. We are called to be people who share the excitements and challenges of faith with others. And since we are urged by God to make Him known to the world there is then the need to use the best available means.

 

Throughout history, the method by which the Church carried out the Great Commission of proclaiming the gospel or evangelization has been propelled by epochal technology. For the Apostle Paul, it was the Roman Road system. For the Reformation, it was the Printing Press. For us today, it is the power of the Internet in the palm of the hand of nearly all the members of our Church, and certainly almost every man, woman and child in the Church’s vicinity. Thanks to modern technology and its invention of social media. In this era, we have come to realize that we can reach and teach the world through a simple device we hold in our hands. The device can be a small computer that sits on our laps or a portable handset in our pocket. The world has changed, and there are great opportunities for the Church in our age.

 

In this modern era, we are surrounded and sometimes bombarded by electronics – computers, smartphones, Ipads and tablets – and social media possibilities like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the likes. In any case, the Catholic Church and our Popes for the past fifty years or more have emphasized that there is a need for these opportunities to be harnessed in the service of God and the Church.

 

In Europe and America for instance, Church attendance is generally on a rapid decline and there is a need for an immediate solution. Even for the Churches in Africa that presume to gain large attendance, these Churches only host some Christians for about 1-3 hours per week. Yet this congregation and other people out there are spending increasingly significant amounts of their working hours connected and immersed in social media.

 

 

 

THE CHURCH’S POSITION ON THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

 

In the document of the Vatican II in 1963, “Inter Mirifica”, the participants in this transformational synod of the Church saw the need to educate the members of the Church concerning the use of social media to further the life of the Church.

 

On the first-ever World Communications Day in 1967, Pope Paul VI had this to say: “In the vast and complex phenomenon of the modern means of Social Communications, such as the press, motion pictures, radio and television, there lies the unfolding and the realization of a wonderful plan of God’s providence, which opens to humanity’s genius ever new ways of achieving his perfection and of attaining to his final end.” He, however, cautioned: “One cannot ignore the danger and the damage which these means, however noble in themselves, can inflict upon individuals and society when they are not employed by humans with a sense of responsibility or with honest intent and in conformity with the objective moral order…”

 

Today social media and its attendant means of transmitting messages are expanding far faster than we are able to understand. On the 36th World Communications Day in 2002, Pope John Paul 11 harped specifically on the internet when he said: “The Church approaches this new medium with realism and confidence. Like other communications media, it is a means, not an end in itself. The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses.”

 

More recently, Pope Francis examined the use of social media and said, “It is important to know how to dialogue and with discernment to use modern technologies and social networks in such a way as to reveal a presence that listens, converses and encourages. Allow yourselves, without fear, to be this presence, expressing your Christian identity as you become citizens of this environment. A Church that follows this path learns how to walk with everybody.”

 

In Pope Francis’ address to the Pontifical Council on Social Communications on the 27th day of June 2015, he urged: “The great digital continent not only involves technology but is made up of real men and women who bring with them their hopes, their suffering, their concerns and their pursuit of what is true, beautiful and good. We need to bring Christ to others, through these joys and hopes, like Mary, who brought Christ to the hearts of men and women; “It is the duty of Pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they, with the help of these same media, may further the salvation and perfection of themselves and of the entire human family. In addition, the laity especially must strive to instill a human and Christian spirit into these media, so that they may fully measure up to the great expectations of (humankind) and to God’s design”.

 

Recognizing Christianity as fundamentally a proclamation event enables us to identify how each new medium changes the function of an older one. In a back-to-the-future modality, the Church must join the turn to digital technology already made possible by mass media. But to do so requires both wisdom and integrity. Wisdom recognizes that first and foremost, social media is merely a tool. These tools allow the Church to engage in conversations, share interests, and generate their own content. Digital applications, computer-mediated instruments, mobile and web-based technologies serve to facilitate the transmission of this content.

 

Digital technology is no longer an alternative social space, but it is now the main platform for providing and receiving information. The fluid and flexible nature of the internet has provided multiple affinity groups, allowing for greater ideological integration.

 

The mandate for the followers of Christ to go into the entire world will not be fulfilled by riding on a donkey through Jerusalem but going into the virtual spaces made available through digital technology. In this current digital culture, as in every era, the task remains for Christians to speak to the world. Nonetheless, holding to the textually mediated reality of Christian Scripture, the people of God today must utilize the various tools for community formation in a digital world. To do this, assumes the task of sharing particular stories as the message of the Church. Through public presentations of the reality depicted in the narrative of Christian Scripture, this generation, as those before us, must rehearse the reality of God in such a way as to enable the drama being presented appear acceptable.

 

ATTITUDE OF SOME CHRISTIANS TOWARDS SOCIAL MEDIA

 

These days, one is hard-pressed in certain Christian domains to find people who speak positively about social media. These groups of believers have continued to propagate their avowed disdain for modern means of communication.  They have often come out clearly on how “social media” brings about doom-and-gloom in the society. Some articles have been written discussing how social media have brought about the ruin of our institutions, turned us into antisocial strollers and are the root source of depression and anxiety. I am not here to discount or deny the negative aspects of social media, particularly as it relates to the Catholic Church, but I take a different approach in this paper.

 

Their reasons are simple and at times justified. Social media, especially Catholic social media, can be a difficult, hostile place. These days, we often see media discussion devolve into a debate, and debate devolves into fighting, and fighting devolves into mudslinging. The current climate in the Catholic Church has supercharged this phenomenon in an ugly way.

However, it is for these same reasons that faithful Catholics must take our message of love and trust in Jesus Christ to this same social media. Now is the time to show the world what it means to be a Catholic, to love our neighbor, to advocate for life in all its forms and to be in awe of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Social media allow us to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people with one click — so what better place to spread these messages of hope and love than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

 

Using social media to witness to Christ and proclaim his mighty deeds starts by treating social media as a special gift from God. Pope Francis, in his 2016 message for World Communications Day, alluded to this when he said: “Emails, text messages, social networks, and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”

 

It is important to note that we can use our social media outlets to invite people to Mass, adoration, confession and various other Catholic events. We must, therefore, acknowledge that our Facebook friends or the thousands following our parish’s Twitter account are veritable communities themselves. That means we must use social media to minister to and feed these communities by offering them content that will help them encounter Jesus. Whether it is an inspiring or comforting quote from Scripture, live streaming Masses or events, or catechetical videos that share the richness of our Catholic tradition, we need to offer something of substance to our friends and followers. If we share meaningful content, we can use social media to bring people into an encounter with Christ every single day.

 

Meaningful content is two in one. It is authentic and vulnerable. In a world where lives are lived on social media, where we are bombarded with advertisements and noise, people crave authenticity. They desire something stable, something comforting and something that helps them make sense out of our modern crazy lives. That something is indeed someone and that someone is Jesus Christ.

 

In my role as Director of Communications from my country Nigeria and now for RECOWA/CERAO, I have witnessed people respond strongly to short videos, authentic reflections, and spiritual graphics. Often, they respond to some of our bishops who use social media to post daily reflections, ask questions and offer prayers. Likewise, parishes that use social media to highlight their parish events, share words of wisdom from their pastors, and provide prayer and reflection resources to the faithful are all authentically using social media for the betterment of their parishioners and the entire Christendom.

 

Social media seems also to be vulnerable. These days, many people live their lives on social media, meaning that they open themselves up to the inherent and constant vulnerability that comes from putting their hopes, dreams, emotions, opinions and day-to-day experiences out on display for all to see. Since they live their lives this way, they expect the institutions they follow to live this way too. That is why it is so important for our parishes, schools, and dioceses to necessarily key into social media, to use informal language and to show people “the behind the scenes” of the institution. This enables us to portray that the Church is made up of people, with all their triumphs and tribulations, all trying to serve God as best as they can. In this way, we are both authentic and vulnerable.

 

We cannot resign ourselves to indifference or cynicism simply because social media sites can often be desolate places. Rather, if we bring a spirit of love and joy, rooted in Christ to everything we do on social media, we can provide an incredibly compelling example to a searching world. Christ himself tells us: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another” (Jn 12:35).

 

There is nothing more authentic, no narrative more powerful and no message more challenging than the Gospel. Let us strive to share it through our example of loving witness on social media.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA AT THE SERVICE OF THE CHURCH

 

Right from the beginning, the Roman Catholic Church has put a tremendous focus on the proclamation of the gospel message. This emphasis has been orchestrated in many ways by various people and one of the major ways for all of us to respond to this call of evangelization is through the growing field of technology and social media.

 

People are interconnected now more than ever through social media on the world wide web. The potential for evangelization through this medium is almost limitless and many are yet to explore all its potentials According to internetworldstats.com, over 270 million people in North America use the Internet and that number is rapidly increasing. In similar but different research, b2bsocialmediaguide.com claims that 73% of the USA users of the Internet are reached by Facebook, which I may refer to as the chief social media giant. Clearly, the majority of the people right here in our African continent are affected by social media in one way or another.

 

I guess that it would be thoughtless of the Church and its members not to make use of this valuable resource. By using this medium of social media one can spread the gospel through videos on everything from conversations to apologetics. Likewise, the Church can use social media to spread powerful and possibly life-changing articles that open the eyes of people to the truth or spark an interest to learn more.

 

Many Catholic organizations are making use of social media to spread the Good News. For example, Catholic Online has over 35,000 “likes” on Facebook which means that when they post content on their Facebook page all of those that like them will see the content on their newsfeed. Those that “like” them also have easier access to their content on Facebook and are more likely to visit their website.

 

Through social media, the Roman Catholic Church has the potential to promote the Gospel by promoting Catholic books, the rosary, medals, clerical wears, sacramental, and more. Social media catches the eyes of the world if used correctly and many Catholic groups are presently doing just that. It is easy to look at the Internet and social media while only seeing the faults and misuses of its faculties. However, I challenge all, especially our bishops, priests and religious to urgently discover the potential for proclaiming the gospel message and good work within their reach and use them. Remember that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” –Edmund Burke

 

REACHING PEOPLE IN THE DIGITAL AGE

 

There are many people who would never accept an invitation from Christian friends to attend a Church service or small group Bible study. However, these same persons might love to click and watch a compelling video with a Christian message posted by the same friends on Twitter. A person may never think of going to Church for help in times of personal crisis, but this same person may discover a Church’s grief support group when he or she browses on Google or logs into a friend’s blog. Old friends may never have face-to-face contact anymore, but a person may reach out to an old Christian friend who is easy to be found through a private Facebook message to ask for prayer, counseling or spiritual direction.

 

The beauty of the Digital Age, unlike so many technologies and advances of the past, is that the startup costs are quite low. Most social media accounts are entirely free to create. Blogs and websites can be free or a few dollars, euros or naira a month to manage. Podcasting and video creation can be done by anyone with a smartphone. Gone are the days of needing a book publisher to spread an idea, or a production studio for filming, or a group of professionals to record your voice. The Internet is at least for now, a democratic set-up. People who have valuable or compelling content rise to the top, while boring or irrelevant content is never read. It is not about the costs; it is about engaging the world with authentic voices that have something of value to say.

 

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw people to Christ and to make us like him and what he stands for. Let us go out with creativity boldness and these amazing new tools in our hands to share the good news in a world with more people than ever before. As Jesus did, let us become incarnational; finding ourselves with people wherever they are. By so doing, WORD becomes Digital and makes its dwelling amongst us.

 

HOW MUCH TIME DO OUR PEOPLE SPEND ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

 

Researcher Jason Mander at Global Web Index recently established the fact that the average total hours spent online via Desktops, laptops, mobiles, and tablets in the USA grew from 5.5 hours per day in 2012 to 7.5 hours per day in 2018. One of the main drivers of this online engagement is social networks. According to Mander’s research, the average person spends 2 hours every day on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; and that number is increasing year after year.

 

People are connecting, making friends, dating, reading the news, and celebrating life’s milestones, shopping, laughing, and learning online for more hours a day than almost any other activity. This is where our culture is spending its life. Therefore, this golden opportunity needs to be harnessed by the Church since this has invariably become the new frontier for a life-changing presence of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

You will agree with me that as part of the world that is increasingly becoming “‘global village”, the Church is also experiencing the opportunities and the challenges of the rapid development in communication technology. Interestingly, the Church communication environment is made up of, not one or two, but the four forms of communication culture, namely the oral, the print, the broadcast, and the digital cultures. While the shift from one form to another is indigenous to the social world, the same cannot be said of the situation in the Church. By their ever-greater involvement in the public digital forum, created by the social networks, the young people are establishing new forms of interpersonal relations, creating new self-awareness and asking questions concerning how to act properly and be authentic in one’s own being.

 

LET US GO WHERE THE MODERN MAN IS LOCATED

 

Vincent Donovan (Missionary to the Masai people of Tanzania, during the 60s and 70s) said in his book, CHRISTIANITY DISCOVERED; “Evangelization is a process of bringing the Gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be… When the Gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the Gospel is the Church in a new place”.

 

Whether we like it or not, the contemporary trend is that even amongst the most committed members, fewer and fewer people are attending Church regularly nowadays, and more and more people are spending their Sunday mornings (and every other day) on social networks. As Donovan reminds us, evangelization is about bringing Christ to the people exactly where they are. It also means learning their language and culture in order to engage them in the life-changing message of God with us. In doing so, we begin to discover the Church in a new place.

 

As someone charged to use social media to advance the image of the Church in West African Sub-region, I have seen its fruits and its limitations, if any.  The Catholic Church should embrace social media or at the very least accept it not as the solution to outreach difficulties, but as a means to starting a conversation, resourcing, and reaching people where they are.  The message of true freedom and new life in Jesus Christ and the call to live that new life within the Church is too valuable to not use every available means to communicate it to a world hungering for its liberating invitation.

 

“The recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them more important for a fruitful priestly ministry,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for the 44th World Day of Communications.

 

As we know, Pope Benedict XVI is a social media advocate and he is the first pope to have his own YouTube and Facebook accounts.  He advocates for the use of social media to communicate the Gospel message to a younger audience and those that are increasingly tech-savvy.  This medium is a strong tool for the clergy as well.  “Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, and websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis,” concluded Pope Benedict.

 

SIDE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA ON GOSPEL PROCLAMATION

 

The digital world of social media offers great potential for those hoping to spread the Gospel message but comes with the occasional hazard of opposition.  Pope Benedict XVI approves of social media and its vast potential.  With the click of a button, Christians can reach millions of believers and non-believers alike with the message of the Gospel and the call to follow the Lord. At the same time, Pope Benedict XVI could not close his eyes to the challenges that digital technologies are posing to the Church today. He discovered that digital communication can render our interactions to be one-sided, by sharing only some parts of one’s interior world, and by constructing a false image of oneself which can become a form of self-indulgence. This is particularly observed in the world of make-believe and fake life that shows in the construction of artificial public profile.

 

Other possible risks inherent in the digital age include being less present to those whom one is encountering in everyday life; being more distracted due to fragmented or divided attention between the world in which one lives and the virtual world; lack of critical reflection on the choices made; inability to foster truly deep and lasting human relationships, evident in broken marriages, homes and lives. Given this background, our bishops, priests and religious are called upon to address the great challenges in this era of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Primarily we are bound in conscience to assist the youth to find in Jesus Christ the full and authentic fulfillment of that basic human desire for relationship, communion, and meaning that underlie the immense popularity of social media.

 

The Pope Emeritus offered the following clues on how the operators of the Church’s communication apostolate in Africa and in the universal Church can proclaim the Gospel through the new media. He advised that we can do this by inserting expressly religious content into different media platforms; consistent witnessing in one’s digital profile, in the way one communicates choices, preferences, and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel; being ready at all times to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15); taking counter-cultural actions against some of the ways of thinking that is typical of the web; realizing that the truth shared on the net does not derive its worth from its “popularity” or from the amount of attention it receives but deserves to be made known in its integrity and become a daily nourishment rather than a fleeting attraction.

While the explosive growth and impact of social media are incredible, the digital world offers different challenges than communication streams of the past. Social media is the new public square and raises concerns for Christians when this virtual public square is stampeded by the opposition. Here one may ask; Is the internet, and social media outlets specifically, the appropriate medium for communicating the Gospel message, especially when radicals thousands of miles away can impede your efforts?

 

SOCIAL MEDIA, BETTER SEEN AS A MEANS AND NOT AS AN END IN ITSELF.

 

Marketers refer to places where people congregate as a “watering hole.”  Providing a delivery tool for those looking to not just connect with friends and family, but to also share articles, videos, and links to good information are what Facebook does best for Christians.  This “watering hole” should serve as a good resource, but not as a place where we educate ourselves.  Watering holes merely refresh, while the water does the real work.  Likewise, when we go to Facebook or Twitter to see what is going on, we should not stay put.  We should go and read the articles being linked and referred to, talk to the person behind the profile, and share our own experiences in life and ministry.  Staying put in social media is like expecting a college course catalog to teach us chemistry or biology.

 

As Christians, we are not called to just invite people into the Church; but also, to bring the Church to the people.  By bringing the Gospel to social media sites, we are improving people’s lives by giving them easy access to Christian resources in a place where they already are.  But at the same time, we need to remember that the best communication is interpersonal; not through a website.

 

While at the University, a professor told me that too much information can lead to too little education.  I was confused because it seemed like the more information you have access to the more you learn.  But she explained that when you don’t know where to find credible resources amongst a mountain of information, you are no more served than if you have no information at all.  She is right, and this is one of the most discouraging aspects of social media.

 

When millions blog and even more use Facebook and Twitter the real voices of authority may get diluted.  It will be important in the coming years for Catholics to emphasize that the most popular blogger is not necessarily the most authoritative Christian voice.  Keeping in accord with the Catholic tradition, Mother Church will be refreshing when opinions are abundant, but the truth appears fuzzy.  The bedrock of the Catholic faith lies not in social media but in Christ who uses the Catholic Church to disseminate His eternal Truth.  After all, social media is merely a means to an end-one that has powerful potential for the Kingdom.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the vast array of other social media sites may become burdensome for those who are spreading the Christian message, especially when the opposition tries to silence your efforts.  The nature of blogging, Twitter-ing, and Facebook-ing implies a certain level of back-and-forth discussion.  Commenting features provide users with the ability to respond to writers, which opens the opportunity for both feedback and outreach.

In speaking about properly orienting our use of social media, Pope Benedict XVI said, “priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ.”  I believe the Pope would agree that this is the case for the laity as well.

 

With this closeness to Christ, Christians should resist complacent defeat in the virtual world when the opposition lashes out with negative feedback.  This is inevitable.  Social media is a phenomenal tool if used as a means to deliver resources and make initial contact between people.  We have a duty to get the right message into the hands of those who need it. This is a vital duty of the Church. Some want us to lurk in the shadows, rather than preach from the rooftops.  Social media can be your own personal rooftop, so stand firm and keep preaching.

 

THE CHURCH ADVOCATES FOR THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

 

The Roman Catholic Church has long been associated with all things traditional. The Church’s top leaders have been getting their clothes from the same retailer for the past 2000 years. Its biggest decisions are announced to the world via different colors of smoke rising from a chimney above the Sistine Chapel. Habitually, the Catholic Church does not like any kind of organization that would flock to Twitter and Instagram as part of a global social media strategy. But that is exactly what the Catholic Church has done in recent years, building a social presence that now has significant influence across multiple major platforms. The social-focused Vatican News service, launched in 2010, now claims more than four million followers across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to a Twitter strategy focused on dispensing positive messages of hope tied directly to the Church’s teachings. Pope Francis himself hosts nearly 18 million followers on that platform alone.

But this substantial online presence may not be dismissed as a case of religious leaders yielding to cultural temptations. It is all part of a smart strategy designed to help the Church maintain relevance among the people; creating channels for meaningful engagements that help the Church achieve the same goals it has been pursuing for centuries.

 

It is important to note that this social presence is not restricted to the Vatican but the entire Catholic World. Leaders of the Catholic Church around the world have been called upon to embrace the use of social media.

Whether we are building parish websites, advertising an upcoming feast day mass on the net, or managing the social media of religious education ministries, it is all about bringing Christ into our communities. Although, the Holy Father, Pope Francis has given sermons in the past condemning the ills of social media. He has referred to heavy consumption of digital media as “mental pollution” and reminded us that the heavy influence of this media “can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.

 

At the same time, Pope Francis has long recognized the role social platforms play in shaping culture and engaging individuals. Instead of making a futile effort to resist social media at all costs, which might only chip away at the Catholic Church’s cultural relevance, the Vatican has instead embraced a strategy of being present where they are likely to find an audience.

According to a 2015 report from FORTUNE, the Vatican has gone as far as to enlist the help of at least a digital strategy firm to generate insights on what matters most to young social media users, as well as potential strategies for how best to engage them on issues like immigration, climate change, and poverty. Social Media have tremendous potential for good, often underutilized. They add exciting new symbols to our culture. They provide chances for people to witness events as they happen. They have great democratic potential and can extend knowledge to all people, providing a global perspective. They provide diversion as well as entertainment, information and education.

Social Media today reach virtually every member of society with messages that reinforce a worldview. These Social media have been so woven into the economic fabric of our Christian culture that to question the underlying implications of the system appears destructive for human salvation. In this environment, the Church becomes a voice having a greater responsibility in the use of social media to solve our world’s problems.

 

More recently, the Catholic Church has been directing dioceses in major cities to hire digital marketing teams focused on helping spread its message and engage local communities. Warner says digital platforms, and social media, have proven effective in spreading the Church’s message to the world. Through its interactive nature and unlimited scope, social media becomes a prominent tool for modern discipleship. Pope Francis himself encourages Catholics to embrace digital media platforms, to start a dialogue of faith and promote a culture of respect.

The main goals of having a social media presence are awareness, exposing people to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. According to Warner, “Since every person experiences their faith in a different way, the moment of conversion comes from real-life encounters and relationships. Social media can lead people to discover their faith in their own life.”

At the same time, social media functions as a pulpit, allowing the Pope and the Church to speak directly to the people, without them ever attending a mass or getting the news that is filtered through third-party media. Media outlets rarely present Catholicism in a positive way, so Church’s social media helps spread uplifting and true stories. Many people find meaning through faith; social media can successfully introduce and invite them to discover this faith.

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION

 

Announcing the 50th World Communications day theme entitled, “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter,” on Friday, January 26th 2016 the Holy Father, Pope Francis had this to say, “The internet, text messages and social networks are ‘a gift from God.”

 

The release of the message came as Pope Francis welcomed Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, to the Vatican. A week earlier, the Pontiff held a meeting with Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet. In his message, Pope Francis said that “emails, text messages, social networks and chats” can 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,” the Pope continued.

He added: “Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as ‘closeness’.”

 

However, Francis also warned of “unfair attacks” that can take place online: “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 digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks,” the pope said.

The Holy Father emphasized that Social Media can “help us to be better citizens”, but reminded us that “access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected.”  He concluded that “The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing,”

 

It is important that people at all levels of the Church should use the Internet wisely and creatively to meet their responsibilities and help fulfill the Church’s mission. Drawing back timidly from fear of technology or for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many positive possibilities of Social Media. Immediate access to information which Social Media provides makes it possible for [the Church] to deepen her dialogue with the contemporary world. Through the use of these modern technologies, the Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given issue or event. On the other hand, she can hear more clearly the voice of public opinion and enter into a continuous discussion with the world around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common search for solutions to humanity’s many pressing problems.

 

People in leadership positions in all sectors of the Church, particularly our Bishops need to understand the Social Media and apply this understanding in formulating their pastoral plans, policies, and programs. Where necessary, they should receive media education themselves. I believe that the Church would be well served in this era if more of those who hold offices and perform functions in her name received adequate Media training.

 

By extension, other pastoral personnel, Priests, deacons, religious, and lay pastoral workers should also seek and receive Social Media education to increase their understanding of the impact of social communications on individuals and society. This knowledge will help them acquire a manner of communicating that speaks to the sensibilities and interests of people in our present media culture.

 

The Pastoral Instruction Communio et Progressio spoke of the “urgent duty” of Catholic schools to train Social communicators and recipients of social communications in relevant Christian principles.

 

Catholic Universities, colleges, schools, and educational programs at all levels should provide courses on Social Media for various groups—“seminarians, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay leaders…teachers and junior workers in these institutions.

 

For the sake of their children, parents must necessarily be at home with the use of modern means of social communication.  As far as the Internet is concerned, children and young people often are more familiar with it than their parents are, but parents still are seriously obliged to guide and supervise their children in its use. Although, this may lead to learning more about the Internet than they have done in Schools

 

Parental supervision should include making sure that filtering technology is used in computers available to children when that is financially and technically feasible, in order to protect them as much as possible from pornography, sexual predators, and other threats. Unsupervised exposure to the Internet should not be allowed. Priests and their faithful, especially the younger generation are encouraged to dialogue freely about what is seen and experienced in cyberspace. The fundamental duty of a Church leader here is to help the faithful become discriminating, responsible Internet users and not addicts of the Internet, neglecting contact with their fellow Christians and with nature itself

 

It is important to underline the fact that the Internet is a door opening on a glamorous and exciting world with powerful formative influence, but not everything on the other side of the door is safe and positively informative. The faithful youth owe it to themselves—and to their parents and families and friends, their bishops, priests and guidance, and ultimately to God—to use the Social Media well.

 

The Social Media places in the grasp of young people at an unusually early age an immense capacity for doing good and for doing harm to themselves and others depending on the choice one makes. It can enrich their lives beyond the dreams of earlier generations and empower them to enrich others’ lives in turn. It can also plunge them into consumerism, pornographic and violent fantasy, and pathological isolation.

 

The youth, as has often been said, are the future of society and the Church. Good use of social media can help prepare them for their responsibilities in the future. But this will not happen automatically. Social Media is not merely a medium of entertainment and consumer gratification. It is a tool for accomplishing useful work, and the youth must learn to see it and use it as such. In cyberspace, at least as much as anywhere else, they may be called on to go against the tide, practice counter-culturalism, and even suffer persecution for the sake of what is true and good.

In all, prudence is necessary in order to clearly see the implications and the potential for good and evil in this new medium and to respond creatively to its challenges and opportunities.

 

Reflecting on modern Social Media and all the other earlier means of social communications, we recall the fact that Christ is “the perfect communicator, the Word made flesh.  I, therefore, invite all Catholics to be involved in the world of social communications. Using the current Social Media, I invite the Church to preach the truth of Jesus ever more boldly from the housetops, so that all men and women may hear about and know the love which is the heart of God’s self-communication in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday—today and forever.

 

PAPER DELIVERED BY REV. FR. GEORGE WC NWACHUKWU –OFFICER OF COMMUNICATIONS­­- RECOWA-CERAO TO THE WORKING COMMITTEE OF RECOWA-CERAO INCHARGE OF COMMUNICATION DURING THEIR ANNUAL MEETING IN ABIDJAN, COTE D’IVOIRE, 7TH TO 10TH OCTOBER 2019.

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