Bishops Study Facebook, Web Networks

Consider Church's Pastoral Presence on the Net

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By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican called bishops and priests of 82 countries to Rome in order to study the challenges and possibilities posed to evangelization by new digital media.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications, headed by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, began a five-day conference today with a reflection on the Internet's evolution in recent years: Web pages, blogs and social networks -- including Facebook, YouTube, Fliker and Twitter.

Nicoletta Vittadini, communication sciences professor of the Catholic University of Milan, led an internet "surfing" session, in which bishops from all over the world discovered or rediscovered these meeting sites, especially those created for young people and adolescents.

Subsequently, Francesco Casetti, director of the communications department of that same university, reflected with the bishops on the anthropological implications of these new realities.

Congress participants analyzed the message that Benedict XVI wrote for the 2009 World Day of Social Communications on the topic: "New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."

Digital culture

At the start of the congress, Archbishop Celli explained: "We wonder what the position of the Church is, what the Church must do, because it is undeniable, it is increasingly seen, and it can be seen in the Pope's message, that the new technologies are not just instruments but that these instruments create a new culture, the digital culture."

He added: "The great problem for our congress will be to see how the Church is present in this new culture, offering her own contribution. It is an extremely delicate topic."

For this reason, the archbishop stated, the congress hopes to offer guidelines for the Church's pastoral ministry in the world, which will be made concrete in a new Vatican document.

He continued: "The document on which our action is based is Vatican Council II's 'Inter Mirifica.' Later, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications published a very important document, 'Aetatis Nova,' in 1992. We think that much water has gone under the bridge since then and that the new technologies pose new questions, new interests and new pastoral emergencies."

"The idea of this congress," explained the archbishop, "is to see together with the bishops, what the guidelines are for a new pastoral [program] of the Church in the field of the media." He said, "Then, the council, together with cardinals, bishops and consultors will work to write a new document."

In talks with congress participants, Archbishop Celli acknowledged that the great challenge for them is the fact they were not born in the digital era, which means that, unlike young people, they have to learn it.

A young bishop from Nigeria acknowledged that in this sense, bishops must learn from young people, something they are not used to doing.

Internet presence

Archbishop Celli stressed the example Benedict XVI has given, by deciding to be present on YouTube with an official channel (http://www.youtube.com/vatican).

The prelate revealed that a journalist asked him how it is possible that a Pope "lowers" himself to be present in a reality such as this, in which all sorts of videos appear. The archbishop explained that Christ also "lowered" himself to assume human nature, and explained that Benedict XVI's intention is to be "where people meet."

Several cardinals are already present on Facebook, leading one congress participant to ask if the Pope will also enter this virtual community. Archbishop Celli's answered that no thought is being given to it, at least not immediately.