BANGKOK – Modern youngsters spend a lot of time accessing new media like the Internet, smart phones, 3G and computer-based devices, as well as social networks such as Facebook.

Thai Facebook accounts number 3,057,000 – ranking 23rd globally. According to the Young Asians Survey 2010 conducted by Synovate, Thai youths spend 1.7 hours a day talking on their mobile phones – the longest in Asia.

While new media technologies are excellent gateways to exploring knowledge, many youngsters are influenced by consumerism, sex, violence and appalling role models of certain public figures.

These issues now challenge Thai religious institutions. It is no exaggeration that the Thai Catholic Church in particular is expected by people of all faiths to be a counselor in ethics.

Although the Thai Catholic Church comprises less than one percent of the country’s 65 million people, it cannot operate in a safe mode when confronted with complex social issues. It should be a proactive communicator standing for justice and truth in the digital era.

Though the Church has neither lots of money nor personnel, it can turn current critical social threats into opportunities. We should employ communication technologies in spreading the Good News to society, targeting youngsters.

Our post-Vatican II Church has constantly highlighted communication technologies’ role in evangelisation. The pope, in this year’s message for World Communications Day appealed to pastors worldwide to use new media for their pastoral ministry and moral education.

Employing new media for evangelisation and moral edification is a mission for all Catholics. Thai Catholic bishops have also emphasised this in their five-year pastoral plan.

Weekly or monthly guidance from Sunday Mass is insufficient in responding to today’s social issues. We need new ways, such as distributing spiritual advice via digital media.

The Church should play a vital role as a cyber or digital prophet by being an active social monitor on moral issues.

Local churches, the Catholic Education Council of Thailand and Catholic schools should support media education among students.

With the new communication paradigm of “user-generated content” and “citizen journalism,” the Church should encourage young Catholics to create and share content supporting values.

Seminaries, pastoral training centers and the National Catechism Commission should formulate strategies conveying their messages to a new media-savvy generation.

The modern pastor can use digital media to create attractive and highly visual content teaching the Catholic faith.

Besides gathering our internal networks, the Church should join other religions’ networks as well as civil movements.

Thai kids are growing up with questionable role models such as certain film stars and politicians. There are in fact many worthy role models that go unnoticed who can be promoted through new media platforms. It is not a matter of PR but of spreading the Good News.

Thai Catholic communications have witnessed reforms with their new media pioneers such as the Udomsarn Fanclub on Facebook, Thai Catholic radio network and other Catholic students’ networks and diocesan websites.

All these are a good sign, though it is still too early to say if these are effective and sustainable.

The task now for all parties within the Church is to find common ground in using new media to cultivate people’s faith and morality. UCANEWS.COM

Sikares Sirakan is a Catholic media scholar and board member of the Catholic Social Communications of Thailand.

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