The 28th General Chapter made us more aware that as missionaries today we are called to proclaim the Gospel in a world and in an Africa that are constantly changing. For this reason, the Chapter desired to see our Society become more creative in its ways of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to be able to reach out to as many people as possible.
Language or means of communication in general, are key elements in proclaiming God’s Kingdom. Communication constitutes a sector that has tremendously evolved in the last decades. As Missionaries of Africa, we know the importance of the instructions of our Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, concerning the learning of languages and traditions of the people to whom we are sent. Learning the language is the sine qua non for Encounter which, for us, is understood as the essence of the Mission Ad Gentes.
The Chapter reaffirmed the importance of language learning in the missionary Africa tradition. It reiterated the need for us to remain faithful to this practice which allowed our predecessors to be close to people and which today tends to be done in a somewhat random and shortened way. With this tradition, we can and must, as a Society, prepare ourselves to be missionaries in the new “numerical continent” whose language is digital (see AC 2016, 3.3).
In the past, drums were used in Africa to communicate over long distances and messengers were also sent. Today people send an SMS, a WhatsApp message, a tweet, etc. , As a Society, if we want to be more effective in communication, we can no longer ignore these new means of communication and continue as if things were the same. We will surely gain by learning to use these new forms of communication in Mission. Perhaps we will succeed in reaching out to those we no longer manage to encounter through our traditional structures. Through social media, we might also be able to share with a wider audience the values for which we have dedicated ourselves to the service of the Kingdom of God and to the African world.
As individuals, many of us already use one or other means of social communication for personal purposes. It’s high time everyone started to do so it if we want to access the new “digital continent”. This would not only make it easier for us to communicate news amongst ourselves, but, it would also help us to be present for mission in a world that is now becoming accessible at many people’s fingertips on computer screens, tablets and smartphones.
There is a felt urgency to adopt new approaches to meeting our contemporaries. In September 2013, in his address to the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pope Francis launched a challenge to Christians to help “rediscover, through the means of social communication as well as by personal contact, the beauty that is at the heart of our existence and journey, the beauty of faith and the beauty of the encounter with Christ”.
The Chapter has invited us to take up this challenge. It proposed organizing training programmes at all levels, making use of specialized lay people where necessary. As far as the Media and Social Networks are concerned, it further called for the building of bridges between those confreres who like this sort of things and those who don’t (AC 2016 n ° 3.3). These are proposals which almost all the Provinces took to heart during the Post-Capitular assemblies. We all have the responsibility to ensure that all this does not remain just words.
We are aware of the many people who seek spiritual nourishment on social media. For us Missionaries of Africa, we must ask ourselves what we actually propose to this “digital continent.” What should we say about our charism, our spirituality and our identity? This is a challenge that requires us to be creative. The Chapter went a long way in calling us to explore the possibilities of creating a digital application specific to ourselves. It is a challenge for the youngest among us to put their digital talents at the service of the Mission.
Despite its importance, social media remains a permanent challenge and using it obviously invites discernment. Through social media, it is always our identity as apostles and our charism that we should seek to live and reflect. Cardinal Lavigerie instructed us to “be apostles and nothing but apostles”. A starting point might be to look at how we present ourselves as apostes on our Facebook pages, on our blogs etc. As apostles, we should always seek to live and to reflect our apostolic identity through our use of the Social Media with the purpose of bringing others to encounter Christ.
Thanks to digital applications, it has become possible to remain connected among ourselves! We share news more easily. There are social platforms that unite confreres of the same country, same year of formation, etc. In recent months, the General Council has created its own WhatsApp group! This allows sharing of the same information at the same time when Council members are travelling. For some time now, confreres also maintain personal blogs. While these initiatives may remain timid, it should be acknowledged that they are big steps towards more important commitments in the use of Social Media for mission.