For some time now, technological progress and the expansion of social networks have profoundly modified world culture. For better or worse, whether we agree or not, whether we live in the north or the south, practically all of us have been impacted by these recent developments. In fact, it is practically impossible to exercise any social responsibility without an email address or without being in regular and rapid contact with collaborators or confreres. One of the consequences of this evolution is that it contributes to the acceleration of activities in the world, which is one of the characteristics of the postmodern world (Cf. the excellent study of Hartmunt Rosa, Social Acceleration: A new theory of modernity. Columbia University Press 2013). Young people, (but not exclusively so), are impatient and under pressure to keep up to date in what interests them (which can be a bit narcissistic). Various Media organisations keep sending “alerts” concerning the latest explosions in the world or the retirement of a famous footballer. Sometimes we allow ourselves be trapped by all this. Some people leave their phone on continuously so as to be directly informed and to be able to reply as quickly as possible no matter what time of the day or night.
There are real advantages to being connected. We saw it during the 2016 Chapter where, more than ever, confreres were kept regularly informed and could follow, for example, the day of recollection in real time. Apart from these special occasions, there is a whole area of the management of congregations, which is dependent on these networks, emails, messaging, texting not to mention Facebook, WhatsApp and others. The confreres, including Superiors, are much better informed today about what is happening in the Society. When there is an important document to share, or elections to be organised, the use of social networks have become normal. This facilitates closeness and an esprit de corps plus the fact that one can be sure that all documents have arrived safely even if many do not read them (our web site)!
Consequences for pastoral work
These advantages can also apply to pastoral work. At the time of the Chapter, the media segment was addressed by a specialist who encouraged us to read “The Social Media Gospel, Sharing the Good News in New Ways” by Meredith Gould (Liturgical Press , Minnesota). Using her experience and expertise, she examines all the modern electronic communication tools and assesses their advantages and disadvantages in the management of parish pastoral work. A priori, this is difficult to apply directly to Africa where social network coverage is still limited. However, she demonstrates that it is becoming more and more difficult to stay up to date with pastoral activities without knowledge of these new languages. Young Catholics working outside of the traditional ecclesiastical networks are in the forefront of these new developments (#PitchMyChurch 2 concerns the phenomenon of Catholic start-ups, which offers such things as accommodation, liturgy, prayer, donations, help to the homeless… For the second consecutive year, these young innovators of mobile applications or Christian internet sites met in Paris on the 3rd February 2017 to meet and share their ideas. Dioceses are getting more and more interested in their proposals, although they were frightened of them initially).
In this respect, we could refer to Cardinal Lavigerie’s insistence on the study of the language and customs of people to whom we are sent. It will soon become impossible to be engaged in pastoral work for youth without mastering these new languages and that includes Africa (at least in the cities). The Chapter committed itself to make the confreres more open to the media, even to get to like it. However, this should not be seen as an encouragement to get addicted to it as it can also act as a parasite in community life (Cf. Capitular Acts, 3.3. Media and Social Networks, P. 30).
Good News for today
The vocation of a Christian is to be a communicator because of their Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were taught first of all, and then they became apostles and so communicators of the Good News. This is not an optional extra. It is not a question of being aggressive or acting as a conqueror but of evangelising. This begins by loving and respecting those to whom one is addressing. And that goes beyond direct apostolic work. It involves a commitment to Christian websites. Pope Benedict XVI was not enthusiastic initially for the rapid, brief, partial and often superficial communications of social media. Yet in 2011, he said, “I would like to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of which the digital era has made possible. This is not enough to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this is an integral part of human life.” (Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age, June 5, 2011. Message of Benedict XVI for the 45th World Day for Social Communication.) As for Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia (278), he made a suggestion to families, which we could take on board in our communities, “The educational process that occurs between parents and children can be helped or hindered by the increasing sophistication of the communications and entertainment media. When well used, these media can be helpful for connecting family members who live apart from one another. Frequent contacts help to overcome difficulties. Still, it is clear that these media cannot replace the need for more personal and direct dialogue, which requires a physical presence or at least hearing the voice of the other person. We know sometimes that they can keep people apart rather than together as when at dinnertime everybody is surfing on a mobile phone…This is also something that families have to discuss and resolve in ways that encourage interaction without imposing unrealistic prohibitions.”
I would like to finish by highlighting some areas that need vigilance. Firstly, we should not allow ourselves be invaded and seduced by the easy availability of small screens all around us. The danger is to limit our world to this type of information. We should be aware that a good proportion of the information on these networks is false and difficult to detect. Neither, should we ask other people to do our thinking for us. Short sharp reports do not give the critical elements for a JPIC action for example, even if the images are important. These medias are also very time consuming and there are confreres who do not even read a serious book to the end throughout the entire year (This is the big challenge for ongoing formation!). We become prey to opinion and rumours (reputation of confreres) and our messages can be sadly superficial. Apart from a legitimate right to relax from time to time, the question is, which should concern us: does my use of these tools allow me to proclaim the Good News in a better way and to help and unite the people entrusted to me? That is why we are missionaries. May the Spirit of discernment find a small place in my personal network to get His message to them!
Bernard Ugeux, M.Afr.