Coinciding with the universal Church’s celebration of the Year for Priests, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI suitably chose a theme for the 44th observance of World’s Communication’s Day that reflects on the importance of priests witnessing the gospel in the world of new media.
The pope’s message titled “The Priest and the Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word” challenges the clergy to open themselves to the vast possibilities the field of digital communications offer in the area of evangelization.
“Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word,” the pontiff said.
Indeed, the development of new communication technologies, has created a new breed of generation completely at home in the digital world, who are at ease in communicating with their vast circle of friends via social networking, such as youtube, facebook and twitter.
Although not discounting the traditional means of communication, the multimedia means of communicating, however, appeals much more to today’s younger generation, who spend so much time blogging, tweeting or facebooking friends and acquaintances.
The pope said that “today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive” presents a challenge to priests who are called to proclaim the gospel.
“The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts.”
By utilizing multimedia resources from the web for evangelization, the pope said, “priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ.”
Since the Vatican promulgation of social communication document Inter Mirifica in 1963, the Church has consistently acknowledged the role of media in the work of evangelization.
The late Pope John Paul II, acknowledged as the most media savvy among the popes, made use of the modern media throughout his pontificate, thus reaching out to the faithful in various parts of the globe through the television or internet.
Pope Benedict XVI, closely following the steps of his predecessor, has also acknowledged the impact of digital communications in today’s society, especially the younger generation.
In last year’s WCD message, the pope addressed this younger set as the digital generation who are very much at ease with technology and whose idea of effective communication and nurturing human relationships is through the use of social media networks in cyberspace.
In an effort to reach out to the youth, the Vatican has launched its own youTube channel in 2008, followed by a facebook application called Pope2you in 2009. The application allows users to send virtual postcards and message of peace and hope to friends. The portal has 8,889 fans as of present. It has also an application for iPhone and iPod Touch that provides video and audio news on the pope’s travels and speeches, as well as other Catholic events happening worldwide.
To reach out and minister to this digital generation, it is imperative then that priests should know how to communicate using their language. But since not all priests are media savvy, where even sending an ordinary email could prove a real challenge to some, using and developing the available resources in cyberspace for evangelization would probably take a while. And this is true not only for priests, but also for religious congregations and the rest of the Catholic Church.
But then, the pope stressed that the “priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the “Web.”
The pontiff also highlighted the importance of integrating media formation with seminary formation, so that knowledge of modern technology will be “shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord.”
However, the challenge remains in place. Pushed within this “digital continent” that typifies the present generation, priests and religious, for that matter, cannot ignore the responsibility entrusted on their shoulders -- of using new forms that modern technology provides in proclaiming the gospel.
The Holy Father stressed this further by saying that “the world of digital communications, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16)