The Catholic Church is responding to the challenge of evangelising the next generation utilising communications technology to connect to people where they are and “connecting them back to Church”.
“The millennials are challenging the Church to think differently, to act differently, and to be faithful to the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church and to use new ways of bringing that age-old message to a new audience who does not deal with long texts or emails,” said Bishop Jason Gordon of Bridgetown, Vice-President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) and Chair of its Communications Commission.
He made these comments at last Monday’s launch of New Ways of Being in a Digital Milieu, a pastoral letter on communications issued by the bishops of the AEC. It was held at the Emmaus Retreat Centre, Arima, where the 2017 Caribbean School for Catholic Communications was in session August 6–12.
In the pastoral letter the bishops state, “We must face the deficiencies of our current model of being Church with our isolationist tendencies and embrace the opportunities that rapidly evolving digital technology is offering”.
The “first people” the bishops were thinking of in preparing the letter are the persons ministering in church, inclusive of catechists, Eucharistic ministers, clergy and religious. Bishop Gordon explained, “If we don’t get the ministers of the Church to think – and think differently – then we don’t get to the transformation of the Church that is required of us to be current and relevant to the next generation.” The initiative will help members of Church to work collaboratively, he said.
The pastoral letter has three sections: an introduction, Rapid Developments, and A New Way of Being Church in the Caribbean. ‘Rapid Developments’ comments on the changes over 25 years since the release of Aetatis Novae (A Dawn of a New Era), from the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Communications.
As technology continues to evolve and develop even more rapidly in the future, Bishop Gordon said the Church is challenged “to rethink what we do in terms of ministry and how we proclaim the message and the Good News to all people but especially the poor.”
The third part, ‘A New Way of Being Church in the Caribbean’ mentions three major values—collaboration, communion and commitment. Bishop Gordon said the Church as a family of missionary disciples on the journey to holiness has different generations and perspectives but everyone has a vital place.
In a subsequent interview, Bishop Gordon said the question was how to bring people together to look at “the big issues” facing society, eg. climate change, domestic violence, crime and violence, and how the Church impact can and bring transformation of the society.
He disclosed that research for the Integrated Pastoral Communications Plan (IPCP) looked at how people were using technology, and what has or has not been working. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters can reach “traditionalists” and “baby boomers” (born 1946–1964) but not the millennials.
For the younger generation, the information has to be “broken down into bite size” and presented via digital platforms. Bishop Gordon said WhatsApp groups have worked within ministries and been good for in-house communications but for the youths “image-driven modes of communication” like Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, will have to be used.
He said, “The research has drilled down into the different demographic and what works for each demographic but also the difference between getting something out and co-ordinating and creating a sense of community within.”
Speaking on the IPCP, Sr Angela Ann Zukowski MHSH, professor from the University of Dayton, consultant on communications for the Bishop’s Conference said the Church has to create an ecclesial presence. If it is not engaged the Word is not present “with all of the new emerging new digital resources and tools that are present we simply don’t exist to people”.
Communications in the Church cannot continue functioning in silos of print, radio, television, Internet. “We need to find a way to help integrate all of them…so that we can truly have a prophetic and robust message about the mission of the Catholic Church in the 21st century,” Sr Angela Ann said.
She stressed the need for church organisations to collaborate. There is a “wealth of information and resources” in the Caribbean, human resources – artists, musicians, painters, sculptors who can be “brought into the conversation”.
Developing the IPCP involves different phases: Research, Design, Implementation and Evaluation. Research includes looking at the resources available in dioceses, identifying gaps and how to address them collaboratively.
AEC General Secretary Fr John Persaud brought introductory remarks. An audio message from AEC President Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau was played. He said the plan calls for a new way of being Church in the digital era. From the time of St John Paul II to Pope Francis, the Church has encouraged the proper use of the diverse means of social communications to assist in carrying out its role of evangelisation.
“We trust that this pastoral letter will enjoy wide circulation in the Antilles region and will serve both as instrument for and impetus for greater enthusiasm in carrying out our evangelical mandate,” Bishop Malzaire said. – LPG