Information Technology and the Church to Be Focus of Congress

Goal: “to Build a Digital Culture of Solidarity”

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ROME, FEB. 18, 2003 ( A congress on the Church and information technology, planned for April in Monterrey, Mexico, will be the first of its kind in the Americas.

The congress, convoked by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Latin American bishops’ council (CELAM), the Mexican bishops’ conference and the Archdiocese of Monterrey, will be held April 2-5.

Here, Father Lucio Ruiz of the secretariat of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, coordinator of the technical group of RIIAL, the Information Network of the Church in Latin America, explains the goals of the meeting.

Q: “Building a Human Network of Answers and Help” is the title of this continental congress on Church and information technology. What are the objectives of the event?

Father Ruiz: The congress hopes to offer Catholic organizations that use IT for evangelization and culture a space for encounter and reflection on the new means of communication, the cultural changes which accompany them, the strategies the Church can implement to announce the Gospel in these environments and to build a digital culture of solidarity.

The congress is for all America, in keeping with the postsynodal exhortation “Ecclesia in America.”

Its aim is to offer people and organizations that use IT in their work of evangelization an opportunity to meet, to discern together possible areas of future collaboration; identify the social-cultural scene in America to increase the potential of IT; study the consequences of the media phenomenon of interactivity, present for the first time in history at a planetary level; identify ways to obtain digital integration shortening distances between the “info-rich” and “info-poor”; examine the impact of new technology on ways of life and thought in the different cultural areas of Catholic America; in-depth study of new forms of religiosity arising in the new cultural context of postmodernity; offer the experience of the Information Network of the Church in Latin America with a common table where local Churches can meet and share for reciprocal enrichment in favor of the most needy.

Q: Who are the agents and who are the receivers?

Father Ruiz: The agents are the speakers but the participation of congress members from near and far will be very important. With their input and dialogue they can offer criteria, study lines and even actions for the future.

The receivers are all those who intend to evangelize using IT — not only the Internet but also the media in general — and those who are interested in the theme and the spirit of the congress.

The meeting is open to all but it is addressed in particular to bishops, priests and other pastoral workers, communications experts, IT teachers and students, philosophers, theologians and all who are sensitive to the process of cultural change in the world today. Derrick de Kerckhove will give the first conference on interactivity, “New World Realities in the Media.” This will be followed by Manuel Castells, [on] “Globalization of Communications”; Eulalio Ferrer, [on] “Digital Culture: Ethics of Communication”; Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, “Evangelization in the Digital Era” …

Q: The new digital era technology is the center of a process which affects various sectors. How do you intend to allow humanistic values to emerge?

Father Ruiz: Communications is at the center of RIIAL, which organized the congress. We hope to demonstrate that it would be of little use to equip Church organizations with IT unless this technology serves to bring people closer, help them to work together, to build common services to save energy and resources.

Isolated [means of] IT are only good typewriters, while as a network they are a tool which offers advantages to everyone. However, there must be formation. Our commitment is focused particularly in this area.

Q: How do you intend to introduce IT in the poorest regions of the continent?

Father Ruiz: Many organizations are working for digital integration but more effort is required of governments and other institutions.

Congress participants will be presented with initiatives of the Monterrey Technological Institute aimed at bringing culture and education to the masses by means of new technology.

In the context of the Church, I mention the RIIAL motto, “Reaching the Furthest Away,” that is, the poorest, the most excluded. It is not enough to have efficient IT networks in a church office and not take into consideration the concrete needs of the local Church as a whole.

It is not much use to provide machines and services to those who already have material, books, documents and media. Systems must take into account above all those who have none of these means, in order to put at their disposal all possible creativity to offer technological solutions that facilitate integration in this reality and its services.

This means, besides supplying a PC, the acquisition of IT “user culture” which implies an indispensable formative effort. With this in mind, RIIAL undertakes constant study of what is offered by IT, selecting not the most sophisticated modern means but those that can reach all users, particularly those with less infrastructures and less powerful tools.

One of our main commitments is to multiply the users of e-mail where there are neither libraries nor material for evangelization and to generate services which do not require the Web because they use simpler systems so that the most disadvantaged receive texts for pastoral care and have access to the same sources as those who have advanced technology and resources.

Q: Do you think that the use of IT can promote development?

Father Ruiz: A means in itself is not a help or hindrance in human development; it depends on how it is used. In the specific case of IT this can promote an essential aspect of the person: the building of networks, collective construction of culture.

According to Derrick de Kerckhove, a Canadian expert-heir of [Marshall] McLuhan, the world is coming to a new understanding: “Connecting intelligence,” which is connected by long-distance. Our hope and our commitment is that IT may play its proper role and serve to strengthen humanity in its most humble forms.

I am thinking of the root of the Church’s IT programs. Where do they come from? First of all from the command of Jesus, “Go out to the whole world.” This is an explicit command to go to the ends of the earth — and IT is an excellent means to achieve this.

Second, there is a clear call from the Pope for new evangelization: “new in its ardor and new in its methods.” Therefore, if our culture belongs to the digital era we cannot fail to evangelize with and through IT. God reveals man to man. Evangelization is also humanization.

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