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Catholic media in the Caribbean must be relevant

The challenges facing the Catholic News in its evolution to become more relevant on questions of Caribbean identity are not only faced by the local paper but are shared by the eight monthly Catholic newspapers that are published in the Caribbean.

“What can these papers do to be the medium in the tremendous challenge of re-evangelisation of Caribbean people?” asked Bishop Clyde Harvey of St George’s-in-Grenada in his presentation at the Catholic News Symposium The Pursuit of Truth in the Age of Fake News November 18 at the St Dominic’s Pastoral Centre, Diego Martin.

Bishop Harvey said the way forward in a digital era is for Catholic media to clarify moral standpoints of the Church and to speak out on deeper matters of faith, without fear; and become involved in investigative journalism that matches the major Catholic newspapers of the world like the United Kingdom’s The Tablet.

In reflecting on fake news, he said the question to be asked is to what extent are the news given an “authentic voice that comes from the depths”. He added, “To what extent have we become content not to plunge the depths of our own living experience?”

Speaking on the topic ‘Catholic News as Medium—Religious Voices in The Caribbean’, Bishop Harvey said while Catholic News has evolved over 125 years, it is necessary to ask whether “no news” is worse than “fake news”. He urged Catholic media to be open to the changes that the faithful are going through in their understanding of themselves and their concept of God.

Bishop Harvey described the Catholic News up until the time of the editorship of Fr Michel de Verteuil CSSp, as “more a catechism” but was hopeful it was becoming a “more prophetic voice”.

Discussing the “specific issues” to be confronted, he said the local Church must clarify the moral agenda so the Catholic News both “as a medium and as a tool can make that change and contribute to transforming society”. Bishop Harvey said the local Church has been “captivated” by the agenda of North America. He noted that “human sexuality” seemed the only issue which stirred Catholics to action.

Bishop Harvey praised the efforts of some who have fearlessly been able to develop their voices and encourage dialogue on matters facing the local and Caribbean Church. Stating that Pope Francis models fearlessness, he said: “Journalism is about fearlessness in asking the necessary questions and not always getting the answer…As we try to find that deeper religious identity; we are challenged to be open.”

Mission field is online

Tracy Chimming-Lewis, Digital Media Manager, CAMSEL, in her presentation ‘Carving A Place for the Church in the Digital Arena’ spoke about the benefits of using social media to reach more people in the Church.

Chimming-Lewis said while social media websites Facebook and Instagram are widely used tools, the internet can be used in other ways to enhance relationships in the Church, such as setting up Confirmation groups that are not public.

Chimming-Lewis showed how one can “cut through the noise” of social media and use it for what it is worth. She asked, “How do we cut through the noise to communicate faith to the next generation?”

Both Chimming-Lewis and Fr Robert Christo, Vicar for Communications, agreed that there is need for personnel to be trained to use social media strategy. They were part of a panel discussion which included Bishop Harvey and Mark Lyndersay.

Chimming-Lewis said today’s mission field is an online field and apart from creating virtual yet real community for establishing posture and place, she agreed that there is need for relevance and resonance.

Both Bishop Harvey and Chimming-Lewis believed that the way forward included being committed to dialogue in addition to reading social media comments, and using context as a filter for fake news.

Calling on journalists to be lifelong learners, Chimming-Lewis illustrated how social media can not only build community but can celebrate sacraments, preach the gospel and “share stories to deepen faith and inspire action”.

Lyndersay said in a time of feedback, each church, parish and individual must clarify their own thoughts on what the message is, how it needs to be sent and for whom, in order to recognise situations when the traditional interpersonal medium may be more effective.

The idea of a “digital fast” for a day was also advocated by Archbishop-elect Charles Jason Gordon in his feedback at the symposium. Fr Christo called for a new spirituality of value generation to guide users of social media through education and building a “shift-awareness” and a “digital reformation” but that it should not seem threatening, calling it a “new frontier”.  Bishop Harvey also said the move to a social media presence for Catholic media, is “a moment of radical re-creation, no longer in a static universe”.

All panellists concurred that to be effective in converting hearts, it was not so much about the tool as about the content of the message and being a prophetic voice.

In September it was announced that the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 52nd World Day of Social Communications on May 13, 2018, is Fake news and journalism for peace. – EH