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The evolving landscape of Church communication

In an insightful interview on The Catholic News’ Altos programme, Fr Robert Christo, the Vicar for Communications, discussed the significance of World Day of Social Communications (commonly known as World Communications Day) and the role of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) in church communication.


The roots of World Communications Day

Fr Christo reflected on the foresight of the Catholic Church in establishing World Communications Day nearly six decades ago. In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Church proactively recognised the impending deluge of information that would be unleashed by rapid advances in communication technologies.

Within just a few years, the Pope wisely acknowledged the need to strike a balance—to harness these evolving mediums responsibly for the greater good and to enhance the Church’s ministry.

He highlighted the innately communicative nature of God and the Church’s mission to thoughtfully adopt new technologies as a “digital continent” emerged.

Establishing World Communications Day was a visionary step to ensure the Church could effectively disseminate its teachings and connect with the faithful as communication landscapes transformed drastically.


AI: opportunities and challenges

On the theme for 2024, Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication, Fr Christo acknowledged AI’s dual nature: “I see this as both” he said, referring to use of AI. “It’s ambivalent, because anything else, you can get addicted and or destined to control you, whatever it is. Opportunities are great because some things are mundane. You can automate it and time.”

While recognising AI’s potential for automation and efficiency, he cautioned against allowing it to replace human emotions, relationships, and the wisdom of the heart.


Integrating AI in local church communication

Fr Christo emphasised the importance of striking a balance and integrating AI responsibly into church communication in Trinidad and Tobago: “We want to use more AI-based stuff. I mean, we’ve got to be on top of it to be relevant and to be connected, especially to the young people. And they like stories, their attention spans are short. The imagery is important.”

Fr Christo acknowledged that AI could enhance certain aspects of church communication:

  • Automation of mundane, repetitive tasks like data entry, scheduling etc to save time for more strategic efforts
  • Advanced data analysis capabilities to uncover insights from large datasets and better understand audience needs
  • Potential cost savings by optimising processes and resources through AI assistance

He saw an opportunity for strategically integrating AI to support and enrich human-driven communication efforts rather than entirely replacing human roles.


Potential threats of AI

However, he sounded a cautionary note about the risks of unchecked AI adoption:

  • Addictive tendencies leading to overdependence on AI at the expense of personal development and growth
  • Infringement of privacy and data rights through unethical facial recognition, surveillance, and data mining practices
  • Enabling the spread of disinformation by using AI to generate highly realistic but fabricated content indistinguishable from reality
  • Gradual erosion of meaningful human relationships as AI-powered communication replaces authentic, emotionally resonant connections
  • Diminishing human identity, dignity, and the sacred nature of personhood if AI attempts to replicate human emotions and experiences

He stressed the need to maintain the local Caribbean flavour, integrating the region’s cultural elements like music, dance, and storytelling into AI-assisted communication efforts.

Fr Christo urged the vital need for a strong ethical framework with rigorous guidelines and boundaries. This would allow harnessing AI’s functional benefits to streamline processes while mitigating existential threats to core human values, emotional depth, virtuous wisdom, and the spiritual essence central to Church teachings.

As the Church embraces emerging technologies like AI, the emphasis must remain in maintaining a human-centric approach, integrating wisdom, and preserving the essence of communication grounded in relationships and cultural authenticity.