By Jesús Colina
ROME, NOV. 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Europe is asking itself how well its taking advantage of the Internet to proclaim Christ, and being aded in this evaluation by representatives of projects such as Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube.
This analysis is taking place at a four-day conference that began today in the Vatican.
Benedict XVI is the first to encourage such a self-examination, as affirmed in his message to the participants delivered by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his secretary of state. The Holy Father urges an analysis of “this new culture and its implications for the Church’s mission.”
“Just as the first generations of Christians took pains to understand the pagan milieu of the Greek and Roman world so that the truth of the Gospel might touch the hearts and minds of their hearers, so too the proclamation of Christ requires a profound knowledge of the new technological culture on the part of today’s teachers and evangelists,” states the papal message.
The symposium is promoted by the Commission for the Media of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE).
Internet is culture
The meeting was presented by Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia, and vice-president of the CCEE, who began by clarifying that the “Internet is not only a recipient that receives different cultures. The Internet is culture.”
The cardinal posed urgent questions to the representatives of the European episcopate: What implications does the presence of the Internet have today for the mission of the Church? What repercussions does it have in the evangelizing endeavor of cultures and the inculturation of the faith? How has the Internet entered in the ordinary pastoral care of our dioceses and parishes?
In his clues for answers to these questions, Cardinal Bozanic acknowledged that many in the Church see the Internet “more as an instrument,” and he added: “We could think this three or four years ago. Today we must see that Internet is above all a world, which some have even called the ‘seventh continent.'”
For most people, especially young people, for the Web generation that has grown up on the Internet, this virtual place, the world of the new media, is becoming the main venue where their human, moral and cognitive formation takes place, the cardinal suggested.
“On the Internet,” he said, “young people create their social ties and learn to live!”
According to the cardinal, the Internet is neither good nor bad: “As any instrument placed in man’s hands, the Internet becomes what man himself decides.”
In this context, he said, for the Church, her presence on the Internet “more than an opportunity is a necessity,” as “without this presence she would not succeed in entering into dialogue with thousands of young people, primary actors in this reality, given that she would remain antiquated.”
For this reason, the cardinal left these questions for consideration: “What view do others have of us? To what degree are our sites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?
Diakonia of culture
The next speaker was Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who said that the Church has been slow in understanding and even slower in applying the words that John Paul II wrote in the encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” (of 1990), when the Pope acknowledged that in the Church “this Areopagus” of communication “has been somewhat neglected.”
“Generally other instruments for evangelical proclamation and for Christian formation are favored, while the means of social communication are left to the initiative of individuals or small groups, and they enter the pastoral program only at the secondary level. Work in these means, however, does not only have the objective to multiply the proclamation. It is a more profound event, because evangelization itself of modern culture depends to a great extent on its influence,” explained Archbishop Celli, citing the Polish Pontiff.
He also mentioned the new stimulus that Benedict XVI has given to the presence of the Church on the Internet, in particular with his address to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, so that it might exercise “a ‘diakonia of culture’ in the present ‘digital continent,’ following its ways to proclaim the Gospel, the only Word that can save man.”
Archbishop Celli made a wake-up call, saying that 70% of Catholic sites have yet to take on the elements offered by Web 2.0, that is, interactive production and on occasions, community production.
Lesson of the Evangelicals
Finally, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri of Gap and Embrun, France, president of the European Commission for the Media, ended by offering elements for an analysis that enables children of the Church to abandon that fear that on occasions impedes them from rowing freely in the Internet sea.
In particular, he mentioned research done in the French-speaking world showing that Evangelical sites are more visited than Catholic ones, despite the fact that the Catholic population is far more numerous than the Evangelicals in France.
“How should we explain this?” asked the bishop. The first reason he gave was that “Evangelicals listen and Catholics talk.”
With this, the research states that “the Evangelicals come out of themselves to put themselves in others’ shoes. They respond to needs.” For this reason, he asked: “Does the Church speak, perhaps, from herself, without taking sufficiently into account what people are experiencing?”
The second reason for the greater success of the Evangelical sites vis-a-vis the Catholic sites is due to the fact that “Catholic sites are centered on themselves” and consider the means “as instruments and not as a world that must be evangelized.”
The bishop said that Catholic sites on the Internet are “duplicated in parish sheets, in diocesan bulletins. They are for internal use. They speak a language for those who are initiated and for the exclusive use of the initiated. The Evangelical sites, on the contrary, want to reach [people], using the Internet as an instrument and vector of evangelization.”
“Whether or not we are in agreement with this analysis, it is clear that we must assume the needs and listen to the world to love it more and to be able to address it,” concluded the French prelate.
The gamut of participants in Friday’s analysis will run from a very young (redeemed) hacker to exponents from the great players in the world of the Internet.