Communication –not just for Experts
It is too easy to say that formation in media culture is for the experts(let those so inclined pursue the proper studies at a post-graduate leve).Indeedsome Oblates will be directly engaged in media and will requirespecialized trainingbut learning the language of the new media cultureis not a field reserved to experts. It is a necessity for every personwho would effectively share his or her faith in the new Information Society.Of coursejust as in our early Oblate history we had men talented inlinguistics who expertly wrote grammars and dictionariesso today wehave Oblates and Oblate associates who are experts in media. But the questiongoes beyond experts. All Oblates must learn to cope with the new languageof media culturejust as missionaries in the past – and today –have had to learn the language of the people they were sent to serve.We do so to better communicate the Good News – to evangelize –and also to help people discern the messages that bombard them daily.Communication must not be seen simply as a specialized apostolate; ratherwe must come to realize that it is a dimension that increasinglycovers every aspect of all our apostolic efforts.
Learning a new language is not easy. Any missionarywho has had to do so has felt the initial frustration of listening tothe ease with which children express themselves while we try breakingthrough the barriers of alien thought patterns and twisting our protestingtongues around unaccustomed sounds. But once we were able to communicatein the language of the peoplewhat a difference it made to our credibilityand to the credibility of our message! It is no different in today’scomputerized cyberworld. We stumble and stammer into a world where evenchildren play with ease. It can be uncomfortable; it can be frustrating– even embarrassing at times. The alternative is to remain snuglyon the outsidedoing what we have always done in the same way we havealways done it – and dooming ourselves to technological illiteracywherein we announce a message of Good News that will go largely unheard.But such an alternative is not of our Oblate charism. Saint Eugene continuesto call Oblates today to be "apostolic men deeply conscious of theneed to reform themselvesmen who would labour with all the resourcesat their command to convert others." (Prefacep. 8)
And Still AnotherFactor in the Equation – the Internet
We cannot speak of evangelizing in the cyberworld or of the new informationrevolution without including its most recent and perhaps most impactingphenomenonthe globalized system of computerized connections called theInternet. In 1961 a journalist with The New Yorker wrote"Freedomof the press belongs to the man who owns one." Todaybecause ofthe Internetit might be more accurate to say that freedom of the pressbelongs to anyone who can type into a computer. We may view the Internetwith trepidation or enthusiasmbut we cannot deny that it is one of themost revolutionary and vast sources of instant information and interpersonalcommunication in our world today. Nor can we deny that although its impactmay still be minimal in some parts of the Third Worldit is changingpatterns and life-styles all around us. In two recent surveys taken sixmonths apart in the United States and Canadause of the Internet wasseen to have jumped fifty per cent among those sixteen years and olderin the sampling!11 It is estimated that at least fifty millionpeople are already surfing the Internetand the number is increasinggeometrically. By the year 2000 an incredible 1500000000 persons willbe on the Internet!
While the United StatesJapan and Canada remain inthe forefrontthe number of connections to the Internet in other countriesis far from insignificant. In FranceGermany and Britainthe Internethas now surpassed connections to other new media (notably cable and satelliteconnections).12 Throughout Asiamoreoverit is proliferatingat astounding speedand one of Mainland China’s preoccupations inthe takeover of Hong Kong on July 11997is precisely the Territory’swidespread use of the Net.13 To the southbecause a news agencypublished an item about Bolivian miners on the InternetOblates in Boliviareceived Spanish e-mail via the Internet from all over the world. We aredealing with a worldwide phenomenon that can only grow.
The Internet’s great drawing card is its interactivity(being able to communicate on a computer monitor with people around theworld). Through itmuch of today’s interpersonal communication andlively discussion are taking place. An incredible number of open forumsand "chat rooms" provide an opportunity for users to join indebates and garner information of all kinds. That is what could make ita privileged areopagus on which to announce the Good News. St Eugene admonishedus wherever new needs arisenew means should be found. There is a newneed in evangelizationand the Internet appears to be a new means tocarry it out.
What Can We DoSpecifically?
It is fine to talk in theoretical terms about announcing the GoodNews in an Information Societybut specificallywhat are some practicalaspects the Congregation can address between now and the Jubilee Year2000at the level of the general administrationregionsprovincescommunities and individual Oblates and associates? I see five of them:
1. A Theologyof Communications
Just as the Congregation has brought experts together to producesuch worthwhile works as an Oblate encyclopediawe must bring togetherour best theologians and media persons (Oblates and associates) on a moredaring project – to reflect on and lay the groundwork for a soundtheological approach to the realities of life and their ecclesiologicalimplications in the cyberworld.
2. A PastoralCommunications Plan and OBCOM
Pope John Paul II has stated under the heading"Urgencyof a Pastoral Plan for Social Communications":
We strongly recommend that dioceses and episcopalconferences or assemblies include a communications component in everypastoral plan. We further recommend they develop specific pastoral plansfor social communications itself¼ In doing sobishops shouldseek the collaboration of professionals in secular media and of theChurch’s own media-related organizations (Ætatis Novæ21).
Should Oblates not be doing the same thing at the generalregional and provincial levels of the Congregation? A plan for socialcommunications in a region or in a province would go a long way to dispelfeelings of helplessness and inadequacy experienced by so many communitiesand individual Oblates facing the problems of evangelizing in today’sInformation Society. An appendix to Ætatis Novæ spellsout some of the elements that such a plan should include: 1) A statementof vision that addresses contemporary issues and conditionsand identifiesstrategies for all ministries. 2) An inventory describing the media environmentof the regionincluding audiencespublic and commercial media producersresourcesdelivery systemsetc. 3) A proposed structure for Church-relatedcommunications in support of evangelization. 4) Media education with specialemphasis on the relationship of media and values. 5) Pastoral outreachto and dialogue with media professionals. 6) A financial plan to makethis ministry viable (Ætatis Novæ24).
OBCOM – the Congregation’s media network – could becomethe force to tie all this togetherforging connections and providingvitality and information at all levels. OBCOM was set up to connectcatalyzeand enable initiatives between Oblate communicators and their co-workersaround the world. Perhaps now is the time for it to take on a wider roleby promoting and facilitating an in-depth and competent analysis of theCongregation’s overall global communication capacities. Such a studywould have to take into account not only the possibilities that technologypresents but also the multitude of cultural realities with which the Congregationdeals. Done comprehensivelyit could go far toward creating effectiveconnections to more fully realize the Oblate charism in the new millennium.
3. Make Friendsin the Media
Are there negative forces at work in the communications media?Unfortunatelyyes. So many that we often feel helpless before the constantattacks on Judeo-Christian values. So many that the Pope has sounded analarm on several occasions:
In some parts of the world voices are being raisedagainst what is seen as domination of the media by so-called Westernculture. Media products are seen as in some way representing valuesthat the West holds dear andby implicationthey supposedly presentChristian values. The truth of the matter may well be that the foremostvalue they genuinely represent is commercial profit¼
There is an ever-growing choice of sources in themedia. The greater the choicethe harder it may be to choose responsibly.It is increasingly difficult to protect one’s eyes and ears fromimages and sounds which arrive through the media unexpectedly and uninvited...and public opinion has been shocked at how easily the advanced communicationtechnologies can be exploited by those whose intentions are evil. Atthe same timecan we not observe a relative slowness on the part ofthose who wish to do good to use the same opportunities?
The Holy Father throws us a challenge in that last sentence.It does little good to complain of bias in reporting and programming ifwe are not prepared to do something about it. Of their naturemedia peopleare not necessarily hostile to the Church or to the Good News. Frequentlythey look for sensation and operate more out of preconceived notions ofthe faith and out of ignorance than out of malice. That makes it importantfor usas a first stepto have friends among themto bein a sensechaplains of the Media ( persons whom they trust to be straightforwardpersons upon whom they can call when questions arise. In some ways maintainingfriends in the Media can be a strong complement to religious radio andtelevision which by and large reach out mostly to the converted and elderly.15Ideallywe would do well to have contacts in all three arms of the Media:pressradio and television. The concept of such a chaplaincy has far-reachingmerits.
4. Become Activeon the Internet
Too often we still view the computer as a glorified typewriter.The World Wide Web of the Internetwith its myriad Web sitesquicklyshows us it is far more. Therethe computer becomes a new means of relatingto others and a Web site (or Web page) on the Internet can be the electronicareopagus where we proclaim the Good News of the risen Lord to an entiresegment of the population which hardly knows him. Every province can benefitfrom a Web site ( an attractive and appealing electronic home page thattakes interactivity to its maximum with a whole gamut of informationalchoices. Almost anyone can put a Web page togetherbut to do it wellit may be necessary initially to hire a professional. Once set uphoweveranyone can operate it and frequently keep updating and amplifying theinformation it provides. Besides telling surfers who the Oblates are andwhat we doa province’s Web site can be a privileged forum for seekingout vocations. Religious vocations are out therewe must invite themto "come and see."
But the great attraction of a well-put-together Webpage will be the interactivity of its "chat room" where interestedor curious searchers can engage with Oblates in computerized discussionselectronically dialoguing and asking questions on any matters they chose.And the beauty of such discussions is that from the computer in his officeor rectory an Oblateanywhere in the province (or anywhere in the worldfor that matter) can at any time "enter" and join in the dialogue.This takes dialogue to another level – dialogue with mostly youngerpeople all over the worldmany of whom seldom if ever enter a churchor take part in traditional religious practices. In such chat rooms wehave the opportunity to truly introduce people who are among the mostabandoned in today’s world to the Unknown God – people who arerarely if ever touched by the Church. One of St. Eugene’s prime concernsas a young priest was the unattended youth of Aix. I believe he wouldhave loved the Internet because today it can put us in touch with abandonedand alienated young people in the entire world.
The Oblate General Administration is to be congratulatedon opening its very attractive Web-site on the Internet (<http://www.omiobcom.org>).Hopefully this will be kept updated and even expanded with chat room interactivity.It would also be a masterful site for the Information Service to providethe Congregationand especially the various Oblate magazines and reviewswith instantaneous news as it happens. The bulletins are informativebut by the time they reach a magazine editor’s desk they are historyrather than news. The Internet could change all this.
5. In the ThirdWorldMore Radio
Radio is a powerful force in the Third World and Oblates are amongits involved leaders. In the Congregation we have at least two approachesto radio ministryvery different from one anotheryet both are highlyeffective in their particular spheres. One model is in the southern Philippinesthe other in the tin-mining Andean mountain region of Bolivia; both involveOblates working in the local language with competent and dedicated younglay persons native to the region. It is urgent that this way of reachingthe poor and most abandoned be ably expanded into other regionsnotablyAfrica and the former Soviet Union. In doing soboth of these modelsshould be studied to see which might best apply in a particular area withits own particular conditions. Thisagainis where OBCOM can be of assistance.
In additionthe Oblates working with First Nations people in the isolatednorthern interior of British ColumbiaCanadaare launching into ruraltelevision with a small station and transmitter. This will be an interestingand important pilot endeavour to follow.
2000 — a Yearof Jubilee
We are preparing for the Year 2000 – the Year of Jubileea time"to bring the good news to the oppressedto bind up the brokenheartedto proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners¼"In 1816after the French RevolutionEugene de Mazenodin a wayrefoundedthe proclamation of the Good News to the most abandoned in his worldand by doing so broke their chains. Todayin the spirit and charism ofSt. Eugenewe are called upon to bring the Good News to the oppressedin our Information Societyto bind up the brokenheartedto proclaimliberty. It is not only part of our apostolic Oblate charismit is alsothe wish of the Holy Father for the Jubilee Year:
Perhaps one of the finest gifts which we could offerto Jesus Christ on the two thousandth anniversary of his birth wouldbe that the Good News will at last be made known to every person inthe world – first of all through the living witness of Christianexamplebut also through the media: "Communicating Jesus Christ:the Waythe Truth and the Life". May this be the aim and commitmentof all who profess the uniqueness of Jesus Christthe source of lifeand truth (Jn 5:26; 10:1028).16
May this also be our aim. A new moment of grace is athand. Let us embrace it with a hunger.
1. European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society documentJanuary 91997.
2. UNDA Newsno.4-51996. Andrzej Koprowskiof Polish Television reported that while much of the privatised mediain Poland have been cornered by the old guard nomenklaturasomeoutlets have gone to opposition groups. Moreover PolandHungarytheCzech RepublicSlovakiaSlovenia and Croatia now have satellite direct-to-homeservices available.
3. Federico Mayorin The UNESCO CourierDecember1996pp.38-39.
4. Pope John Paul II: Ætatis NovæIno. 4.
5. BauschWilliam J.: The Parish of the Next MillenniumTwenty-Third PublicationsMysticCTUSAp.234.
6. Pierre BabinOMI: Evangelization and Mediapp.84-5; OMI DocumentationRomeno. 181May 1991.
7. Pope John Paul II: Ætatis Novæno. 21.
8. CREC/AVEX in Ecully (Lyon) and Local AVEX in variousregions; the Communications Institute at St. Paul University in Ottawathe Centre St-Pierre Apôtre and SAVO in Montreal.
9. Cardinal Etchegaray’s message to journalistsduring the Pontifical Council for Social CommunicationsMarch 4-81996.
10. Documents of the Thirty-Fourth Congregation ofthe Society of Jesus; Decree Fifteenno. 389Curia of the SuperiorGeneralRome1995.
11. Nielsen Demographics Recontact Studyp.4. Internetaddress: http://www.commerce.net/nielsen/exec.html.
12. UNESCOOctober 1996.
13. TripodNo. 94July-August1996pp.51-52Hong Kong. On June 211996a year before the takeoverCardinal JohnBaptist Wu Chen-chung hosted a private dinner in Hong Kong. Invited werethe head of Mainland China’s Religious Affairs BureauYe Xiaowenand some sixty leaders of the Territory’s six main religious bodies:BuddhistsCatholicsConfucianistsMuslimsProtestants and Taoists.Ye Xiaowen asked only two questions of the Catholic representatives: 1)Where does the Church get financing for its seminaries and schools? 2)Are church bodies in Hong Kong linked with the Vatican through the Internet?
14. Pope John Paul II: Communicating Jesus: the Waythe Truth and the Life; Message for the 31st World CommunicationsDayJanuary 241997.
15. George GallupJr.and Jim Castelli: The AmericanCatholic People: Their BeliefsPractices and ValuesDoubleday &Co.Inc.New York1987.
16. John Paul IIibid.* * * *OMI DOCUMENTATION is an unofficial publicationof the General Administration of the
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