Monday, April 26, 2010

New Media-Intercom Article-World Day for Social Communications 2010

The article below was just published in the May 2010 issue of the Intercom magazine and is posted here with the kind permission of the editor. Do feel free to take out a subscription!

In his message launching the focus for the 2010 World Day for Social Communications, Pope Benedict XVI called on the clergy to use the latest technologies, such as websites and blogs, to preach the gospel and encourage a discourse with all users of these “new media”, not just practicing Catholics. In an age when the Internet has surpassed all other media except television as the principal source of national and international news, the Church could not ignore communications developments, or allow itself to fall out of touch with them.

Pope Benedict underlined the fact that Church communities have traditionally relied on modern media to open the lines of communication. As the culture changes, the Church needs to use the latest technologies, especially if it wants to reach younger people who are increasingly feeling isolated from the community of the Church, many even believing that the Catholic Church makes no real effort to keep in tune with the increasing range of helpful and readily accessible forms of communications. Jesus used every forum of communication available to him during his earthly ministry; he preached to large groups of people in public places, as well as to small groups of disciples in quieter spaces. He spoke in the Temple and travelled great distances to tell people of the wonder of God. His dedication to this would not leave us with any doubt that had the power and means to access a large audience been available to him, Jesus would have been an avid user of the Internet to spread his Word.

Quick to explain the idea of New Media, especially in relation to its use in this, the Year of the Priest’, the Pontiff notes 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”.

The Pontiff acknowledged that new technologies call on priests to become savvier in their use recognising that these technologies can promote deeper types of relationships even across vast distances and will “enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the Web.” He also urged those involved in ministry to not forget its primary obligation and message.

The Vatican has already made its own forays into cyberspace. In addition to its main website, the Vatican last year launched Pope2you, where users can access a papal Facebook application, see the Vatican on YouTube, and even download the Church’s iPhone application. At Easter 2009, the Holy See broadcast the Pope’s message with subtitles in 27 different languages - a YouTube record.

Interestingly one of the principal suggestions is that greater use should be made of images, videos, animated features, blogs, and Web sites and that those engaged in formation in a seminary environment should become familiar with new media. It is not difficult for a short course on information technology and Internet safety to be delivered in a manner that encourages, rather than prohibits clergy from engaging with these new media. Some religious groups in Ireland have already begun to positively engage with the papal sentiments by drawing up a list of guidelines for their members using the Internet-making sure it is done in an encouraging manner rather than a list of off-putting warnings.

It is vital to highlight that this mission to engage with New Media does not mean that every priest or nun must now start blogging, tweeting, or set up and maintain their own webpage. One problem that seems to have surfaced from initial reactions to the pronouncement, is that clergy are already busy, without the added work of updating your blog or emailing. However this misses a crucial point of New Media; it is designed for those who do not have much time to devote to it. Twitter uses posts of 140 characters and can be updated from most mobile phones (even without Internet connection). RSS feeds and customisable homepages such as igoogle make access to blogs and websites instantaneous.

If even all this seems too much you should take the spirit of involvement to heart and assess where you can improve and engage further with New Media. For example have a look at your parish’s website-is it updated as often as it could be? Is it accessible and easy to use? Websites are usually very easy to update and all parishes have at least one person who is skilled at web design and up-keep who is only too willing to help-often with only the expectation of a recommendation for future work. Why not collect some email addresses of parishioners and send around a weekly or monthly version of the parish newsletter? You could always include some relevant websites for people to explore while they browse the Net, for example the websites of the Vatican or a Bible Study website. Try asking a tech-savvy member of your congregation to give you a few pointers with how to improve your own use of the Internet or ask them to address your Parish Pastoral Council. Could you set up your own Facebook page to communicate with members of your parish? None of these ideas require a huge time outlay and will start you confidently on your journey of spreading the Good News to as wide a possible an audience.

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