An image of Pope Benedict XVI is seen on a Vatican website as displayed on an Apple iPod touch. CNS file photo
When I was a young boy growing up in Singapore, news and information came to us mainly through the radio and printed newspapers. We had no telephone, no television, and no computer. If we wanted to communicate with someone, we wrote a letter by hand or spoke face-to-face. The world has changed!
With the plethora of communications options available today, we not only receive news and information from all over the world, anywhere, and at any time, but we also have the power at our fingertips to spread information just as easily, especially through online networks such as Facebook and Twitter, known as the new “social media”.
Social media makes each of us a communicator. However, with this freedom of self-expression comes a responsibility.
Pope Benedict XVI’s theme for this year’s World Communications Sunday is Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.
In his message, His Holiness expresses that “there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others”.
Thus, just as we show respect and dignity in our human interactions with others, so too must our “virtual presence” reflect the same Christian values that we are taught.
The Pope also urges us to remain “authentic and faithful” to ourselves, avoiding “excessive exposure” to the virtual world. Especially for the young, His Holiness cautions against “enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence” and “constructing an artificial public profile for oneself”.
Parents may protect their children by becoming engaged in their children’s online activity, perhaps using it as a way to further strengthen family bonds by becoming connected online. Parents must be mindful to enforce limitations on time spent in cyberspace, prioritising human over virtual interaction through their own example.
Our virtual presence, or “digital profile”, affords unlimited opportunities for spreading our faith. The Vatican recently met with a selected group of Catholic bloggers, recognising the need to dialogue with the people who are expressing opinions publicly about the Catholic Church.
An interesting outcome was the recognition of the missionary aspect of social communication, which represents a new type of pastoral presence on the Internet. Indeed, it is not only the content of our communications but how we say what we say that matters. Through our style of communication, we can spread Christian values of love, kindness, humility and charity.
This means that we may need to read emails over once or twice before clicking “send” or reflecting on our blog or Facebook content before posting. We must always ask ourselves: is this message I’m about to send one that I would like to receive? Are my words kind, or could they be hurtful?
When we do engage in religious expression online, we must ask ourselves whether our comments stem from knowledge of the Gospel and Church teachings, or are they our own opinion. This distinction must be made clear so as not to confuse others.
The Church faces a real challenge in this regard. How do we dialogue most effectively with the digital culture? If Jesus were alive today, would He have His own blog or Facebook page? If so, what would He say, and how would He say it?
Pope Benedict XVI notes, “Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!”
Nothing can replace human contact when it comes to relationship-building and witnessing the Word of God in action.
That said, social media presents new opportunities for building relationships and plays an important role in communications today. Thus, in living out our Christian faith both in our human as well as our virtual communications with others, we can become true messengers of God’s word.
Those who work in the field of communications have a particular responsibility to become beacons of Christ’s teaching.
Your work is challenging in a culture with so much “noise” coming at us from every angle. We pray that you may resist the temptation to “go with the flow”, never compromising your faith in your communications.
May you grasp what is true and important, conveying honest messages with integrity, and may you discern with eyes of faith, using your communication skills to enlighten and educate the community in Christian values and teachings.
Today, we are all communicators in one way or another! Whether in our business or personal lives, we are afforded opportunities each day to convey positive messages and promote Christian values.
The new media affords unlimited potential for communication and self-expression on a grand scale. Let us pray that we make wise choices in our communications, opting always to educate and not to alienate; to build bridges and not to enclose ourselves in caves.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Archbishop Nicholas Chia.