From the Vatican yesterday, the Pope announced the topic of his talk for World Communications Day on May 16, 2010. His talk, titled “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word” will discuss the role of the Christian leader in social media. The specific focus of the talk will be on digital social media — given the growth of new forms of media in the last few years. A few takeaways for me:
Web 2.0 Ministry — A Priestly Calling
The Pope states that priests have as their duty to proclaim Jesus Christ, and because the church is the sign and instrument of communion with God, each priest must build up this communion. How? By responding as pastors, preaching the gospel within new forms of social media. The Pope quotes Paul in Corinthians, ““Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). He clarifies that the message of Christ is a contemporary one – it is not a relic from the past but speaks to us now, “God is near”.
Web 2.0 Ministry Requirements
The Pope establishes the priority for the web priest: first a priestly heart (closeness to Christ), then media savvy. Fruitfulness in ministry comes from Christ himself — formed by in prayer. This encounter provides a “soul” to their outreach.
The Pope cites the importance of those ministering on the Internet. “Consecrated men and women working in the media have a special responsibility for opening the door to new forms of encounter, maintaining the quality of human interaction, and showing concern for individuals and their genuine spiritual needs.” He goes on to say that these ministers have three tasks: to help others sense the Lord’s presence, grow in hope, and draw closer to the Word of God. He makes it clear that there is no secular space — that even on the web, “the Lord can walk the streets of our cities.”
Web 2.0 Ministry Location
The Pope clarifies he is not simply talking about having a web presence (Web 1.0). Instead, priests are to be faithful witnesses, leading communities of “different voices” on the web. They are to use “images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites” to open up “new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis”. To what end? So that people will understand the life of the church and “discover the face of Christ.”
The church is called to offer a “diaconia of culture” within the digital world. We must prepare ways for people who seek to encounter the Word of God. The web offers a space for those of all religions and those searching for truth to encounter a sensitive pastoral presence from the church. It is here where the Christian may “embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus”.
I’m impressed by the integration between theology and social media demonstrated in the Pope’s announcement. We do not see web ministry listed here as a second-rate ministry calling. We do not see the fear-mongering and warnings that the Internet is a scary place to dwell for Christians. We do not hear the message that because this technology mediates our presence on the web, we cannot mediate Christ’s presence in a significant way. What we do see is a request for ministers to remain close to Christ so that the church might mediate Christ to others, as the people of God. We do see the church creating a space, a real space, on the web to serve others in humility.
The Pope finishes with an exhortation that speaks to me and hopefully to you, “I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up.” Amen.