Social media is ‘causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behaviour as the printing press did 500 years ago’, said US Bishop Ronald P. Herzog. CNS photo

BALTIMORE – Social media is not only here to stay but should be recognised and used as a “new form of pastoral ministry”, US bishops were told during their Nov 15 annual meeting. “Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the Church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation,” said Bishop Ronald P Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana, a member of the bishops’ Committee on Communications.

He told the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore that although social media has been around for less than 10 years, it lacks the “makings of a fad” and is “causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behaviour as the printing press did 500 years ago”.

“I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology,” he said. “By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well under way.”

“We digital immigrants need lessons on the digital culture ... we have to be enculturated. It’s more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It’s learning how to think, live and embrace life” in forms of blogs, Twitter feeds and online social networking.

For starters, he said the Church must be a voice in this frontier. He added that young people in particular often use social media as their first point of reference in obtaining everything from news of the world to updates on their friends.

“The implications of that for a Church which is struggling to get those same young people to enter our churches on Sunday are staggering,” he said. Or put another way: “If the Church is not on their mobile device, it doesn’t exist.”

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI noted that many young people are “numbed by the infinite possibilities offered by the Internet and other technologies” as they take part in methods of communication that risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation.

People must promote communication that upholds human dignity and encourages “a critical sense and the ability to evaluate and discern” what has real worth in the plethora of information available, he told participants of a meeting hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture on Nov 13 at the Vatican. While the Church works to improve the way it presents its message and show God’s true face, he said it will also seek to “purify, bring balance to, and elevate” the best characteristics of new media and forms of communication so that new technology can be at the service of the whole human being and world community. - CNS

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