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Latin America and the Evangelization of the Digital Continent

 

Entre Amigos – Opinion / Commentary

By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

Recently I participated in II Congreso RIIAL (Red Informática de la Iglesia en América Latina) on "The Church and the Digital Culture." The congress was organized by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCSC) and Council of Bishops' Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) and hosted by the Chilean Bishops' Conference at the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago.

The congress covered interesting topics, including an analysis of this new reality known as the "Digital Continent," the new communications' paradigm, the Church's presence in this new reality and its use of the new technologies for the New Evangelization. It also examined its impact on seminaries and schools; the access of the poor, "info-ethics" and the role of universities, and much more.

Participants included the president of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, several Latin American bishops who oversee the communications committees of their respective conferences, their staffs, communications personnel from individual dioceses, representatives of Catholic Web portals, religious orders, academics, clergy, and other communications' professionals. Hundreds more participated via the "virtual congress."

The congress displayed what's possible nowadays with simple technology. For example, when the ashes of a volcano prevented BishopRadrizzani, of Argentina, from flying to deliver his presentation in Santiago, he made a virtual but very real live appearance by delivering his conference from his office via Internet.

In Latin American fashion, every major topic was debated in breakout sessions after the keynote presentations, and the results of the dialogue were reported to the full assembly. On the last day, participants were challenged to summarize their deliberations in a simple tweet. It was fun and reached well beyond the Aula Magna of the University, for the 140-character messages were actually captured and live-tweeted.

The presentations highlighted the excellent academic research that exists in the region. A connectivity map of Latin America is being developed and a partial-results map was shared at the meeting. Though there are huge disparities in access and cost, several studies showed a common trend: more and more youth have access to a mobile phone and text regularly. Among young adults of college age an elevated percentage, in some countries up to a 70 percent, had access to a mobile phone, and of those about 40 percent had devices with internet access.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, had a very active presence. He highlighted the importance of this conversation in light of the call to a Continental Mission made by the Latin American Bishops in Aparecida in 2007 and the upcoming Synod for the New Evangelization.

"The Aparecida Document, which points throughout to the communications society, courageously propels a pastoral conversion that will make us leave behind old schemas and structures to favor [new ones that foster] a true encounter of people with the Risen One," Archbishop Celli said.

"The Continental Mission encourages us to build communities that are alive and burning. But such Mission simply cannot be carried out without communication: it is communication!"he said. He also referred to the Year of Faith just proclaimed by the Holy Father. "It's a mission that involves everyone."

"The effort to carry out a New Evangelization will orient the entire Church in the next few years, particularly the pilgrim Church in Europe and the Americas, where many communities live and exist in the context of that which we call the digital culture," he added.

With forthrightness and perceptiveness, Archbishop Celli challenged participants to immerse themselves in the digital culture and to fight both complacency and parochialism by making sure they cast a wider net; to make sure they engage, through the new media, those outside the Catholic realm. While it is important to nurture those who are in the fold already, he urged Catholic communicators to fish outside the "Catholic fishbowl." Digital and social media, he said, offer the Church a great platform to engage the modern Court of the Gentiles.

"The digital society is inhabited by many other human beings that probably won't come to church this Sunday or any other Sunday. How are they going to feel called by the Love of God, if no one makes himself or herself close to them in the name of Christ, there in the cyberspace?" he asked. Therein lies the challenge.

How is a dialogue that happened in a far, far away city in South America relevant to U.S. Catholics, and particularly Latino Catholics? Well, if you haven't figured out yet I'll give you a hint: "Continental Mission."

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Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops



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