Christians must welcome new media in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth

‘People of faith need to be in there dialoguing with . . . the men and women who dwell in the web!’

‘There is an opportunity for us here in Ireland to initiate a digital missionary movement.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘There is an opportunity for us here in Ireland to initiate a digital missionary movement.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Many people say that it was a four-minute speech which led to the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope. In his pre-conclave speech to the other cardinals, he used the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. But he turned the image around.

“Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out . . . ” he said. A church which does not come out of herself to evangelise, he said, becomes self-referential and then gets sick.

In Evangelii Gaudium last November, he wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security . . . If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”

It is in this context that I would like to introduce the challenges and opportunities for new media in evangelisation.

Social communications The Catholic Church has always advocated the use of whatever media are available to it in bringing the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. At the Second Vatican Council, one of the first decrees issued, Inter Mirifica, was on the media of social communications.

It reads: “Among the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent, especially in the present era, have made with God’s help, the church welcomes and promotes with special interest those which have . . . uncovered new avenues of communicating . . . The most important of these inventions are media such as the press, movies, radio, television and the like. These can . . . reach and influence, not only individuals, but the very masses and the whole of human society . . .”

Note the welcoming and positive tone.

Mention of “press, movies, radio, television” seems miles away from smartphones, tablets, Netflix, Skype, Twitter and Facebook.

Christians always made use of all forms of media to spread the good news – parchments and scrolls, high crosses, art, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, printing, television or radio.

We must welcome the use of so-called “new media” in this task. The internet has become like the nervous system of our culture. If our young people and others are living in this gigantic network, then we, as people of faith, need to be in there dialoguing with the inhabitants of this world, with the men and women who dwell in the web.

Electronic congregation Billions of people live in the social networks. These have been described as among the biggest countries in the world – and they are countries with no barriers. The majority of these people may never enter a church, but if we are to respond to the Gospel mandate given us by Christ to “go out to the whole world”, then we must nowadays include the digital world and proclaim the Good News there.

In his message for the 48th World Communications Day next Sunday, Pope Francis says of the internet in particular that it “offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

He is clear that, as Christians, we need to “walk the streets of the digital highways, to encounter like the Good Samaritan those who are lying on the side of the road and witness to them in tenderness and love.” Thanks to the internet, he says, “Christian witness can reach the peripheries of human existence.”

Digital missionaries There is an opportunity for us here in Ireland to initiate a digital missionary movement, perhaps during the upcoming commemorations of the death of St Columbanus, the great Irish missionary who died at Bobbio, Italy, in 615 AD.

I have in mind calling people to be online missionaries, sailing out into the “digital sea”, spreading the Gospel on the “digital continent” while at the same time joining together in an online community of prayer and other commitments. Let’s rise to the mission.

Archbishop Eamon Martin is Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and is @archbishopeamon on Twitter. This is an edited extract from a talk he gave at the Soul Waves Radio conference in Dublin last week

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