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Church media gets lesson in friending and favouriting

HUALIEN (SE): “It would be difficult to suggest that Christ’s command was being obeyed unless all the opportunities offered by the modern media to extend to vast numbers of people the announcement of his good news were being used,” Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal, the chairperson of the Office of Social Communications for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences told a meeting in Hualien, Taiwan, at the beginning of a November 14 to 19 meeting.

Organised around the theme of Social Networking for Pastoral Ministry, representatives from Malaysia, Mongolia, the Union of Myanmar, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, The Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and India discussed the power that today’s communication revolution places in the hands of the Church.

Father Franz-Joseph Eilers, from the Social Communications Office, said that the 40-year-old pastoral instruction, Unity and Advancement (Communio et Progressio), is still valid today.

The Vatican II document states, “The constant improvement in the media puts them at the disposal of more and more people who, in their daily lives, make increasing use of them. More than ever before, the way men live and think is profoundly affected by the means of communication.”

Although primarily referring to radio, television and the cinema, the document adds that the Church sees these media as gifts from God, which, in accordance with providential design, unite people together and so help them to cooperate with God’s plan for their salvation.

Father Eilers described it as being the most professional document ever written on the Church and social communication. “The most important (contribution of) this document is its pastoral dimension,” he told the gathering.

However, he noted that this is not an invitation to Church communications people to sit on their laurels. “The implementation of Communio et Progressio depends very much on the openness and flexibility of bishops’ conferences in appointing the proper persons… as well as adjusting to local needs and cultures in a professional way,” the Divine Word Missionary continued.

“This includes theology, spirituality and proper Christian and human formation to develop communicative persons and not just technocrats or techno freaks,” Father Eilers went on.

Quoting the 2011 message from the pope for World Communications Day, Bishop Philip Hwang said that he hoped the conference would be an opportunity for the bishops and national media representatives from Asia to learn about the vast cultural transformation the world is experiencing today.

Two days of the conference were devoted to teaching the participants to understand the workings of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other multimedia better, in a hands-on session run by Father Stephen Cuyos, from Manila.

The two-day seminar looked at visual storytelling, as well as translation of biblical narratives into the language of digital communications. An opportunity to engage in virtual interaction with digital citizens using free and open source software was also provided, in addition to an introduction into the online games that are aimed at promoting Christian values in life.

Father Cuyos said that the Internet is the great leveller. “All of us, regardless of race, culture or position can be friends on networks,” he commented, adding that hierarchies and organisational structures are dissolved.

He called the bottom line lesson for the day making the shift from control to collaboration, saying that modern social media operate on the basis that entertainment is king and, if it is popular and fun, then it must be true. 

He added that Church evangelisation outreach must be in the world of social media and give the participants in the seminar a quick language lesson in its dialect.

“You must friend,” he said, explaining that the word friend is a verb, not a noun. “So is favourite,” he added.

Father Cuyos encouraged media directors to devise their own content and applications for social media. 

“Wherever possible, the Church should strive to devise her own content or applications in order to truly share in the worldwide dialogue offered by social media tools,” he concluded.

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