Setting sail on the digital sea
“Greater possibilities for communication thus turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone. If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled! To go out of ourselves and to join others is healthy for us.” Pope Francis, EG 87
We are called to be missionaries and evangelizers in our families, communities, workplaces and social networks. Just as we expect a missionary to learn the culture and language of the people with whom he is working, we must learn, live and embrace the life and culture of the digital continent today. “Today we are living in a world which is growing ever ‘smaller’ and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbors. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent.” (World Communications Day Message, 2014)
New Media or the Social Media today is a powerful force. Many people, especially the young, turn first to social media for information. It would be disastrous if we do not take it seriously and begin to learn how to utilize it. Saint Arnold Janssen saw during his time that the printed word was a powerful means to realize this goal. “The pastor of souls must use every means which the signs of the times dictate. In the present, this means above everything else, the press. The spoken word is quickly gone, the printed word remains and can be read over again and again.” (Communications media and the SVD in Witnessing to the Word, 4, 1979)
Communications media is asking us to deliver the faith in a different way. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this medium: “Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea, facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for two thousand years. We want to qualify ourselves by living in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of communication.” (Pope Benedict 2010)
Living in the digital world and being active in the social media at the present time do not overlook the fact that as Divine Word Missionaries we have done much in the field of communications. As the years progressed and the media changed, things that we used to do have been replaced by other means that are more effective and more attuned to the times. However, as a Society that has always been aware of the importance of the communications apostolate, we need to look at our own journey in this field and see where we are. We need to retrace the enthusiasm and the effort we have placed in the use of the media and see where we have reaped success and have been effective.
The following questions may help us: Is there vision and direction in our communications apostolate? Is our communications apostolate at the service of the other characteristic dimensions of the Society? In what way does the communications apostolate provide a space for teamwork, planning, and birthing of ideas? How are communication skills integrated in the formation program?
These basic questions lead us to the need to work towards a better grasp, experience and praxis of communications as ministry and as a characteristic dimension. Provinces/regions/missions have shown that there are still things that we need to do. Issues like continuity, lack of preparation, and lack of concern continue to affect the progress of the communications apostolate. Because of past experiences and lack of directions and programs, some have lost their confidence and have become indifferent to the possibilities of the media.
Many of us however are personally active with social media. Often the question that many of us ask is: Why isn’t social media effective for me in my ministry? The simple and the direct answer would often be that it is not effective because it is implemented and executed poorly. If done right, it can be more successful at keeping people informed and engaged. Social media surely requires prayerful and thoughtful planning and use. Simply posting content that adds clutter to our already busy online world won’t make it! People are drawn to authentic content that offers hope and inspiration.
We also need a passion for people, along with perseverance and commitment. “Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God”. (World Communications Day Message, 2014)
Digital technologies are changing and evolving constantly. Websites that were once useful and efficient are now outdated. Even the logos and colors we use must keep up with the latest styles. What previously looked cutting edge may no longer convey the message.
Finally a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. “Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!” (From the Vatican, 24 January 2011, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales)
Father Heinz KULÜKE, SVD, was born in Germany in 1956. Since 1981 he has served as a missionary in the Philippines. He was a professor at the University of San Carlos in the Pastoral discipline and Development Work from 1986 to 2012. He is known for his missionary presence and his support for the people who work with recycling in the garbage dumps of Cebu. He was provincial from 2005 to 2012 and superior general of the SVD from 2012 to 2018.