Popes on Twitter and Instagram
It was December 12, 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI made history as the first pope to join Twitter. The Pope used the handle @Pontifex, which means bridge builder, with at least 9 extensions to translate his tweets in several languages. He was able to compose 39 messages (an aide typed the tweets) until he stepped down on 2013. On March 17, 2013, his successor, Pope Francis, took over the same handle and from then on became one of the most influential personalities on this micro-blogging site, with more than 25 million followers. March, 2016, Pope Francis shook Instagram, with 1 million followers, merely 12 hours after joining this photo and video sharing application with the handle, “Franciscus”.
Reason for touching this new digital continent
So why does an institution as old as 2,000 years decided to step into this digital realm? An obvious answer could be because a large member of the Church’s flock is in social media. Case in point, there are now more people on Facebook than there are Catholics! The need to evangelize this new “digital continent” is now being presented as both a major task and an opportunity to spread the Good News.
Pope Benedict on his message for the 43rd World Communications Day (May, 2009) acknowledged the benefits of this new culture of communication by means of the internet. He cited that its popularity should not surprise us, as the desire to connect and communicate with other people is a “call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion”. The following year, Pope Benedict presented to priests the challenge to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources alongside traditional means to open up the new “agora” or public square for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.
Guidelines and Reflections
Numerous ministries and church organizations responded to this call and became active in this new media ushering in a large pastoral presence in the world of digital communications. Guidelines and reflections, consequently had to be shared both to religious and lay people to ensure that contents are in accordance to parish and diocesan policies and of course, the Church’s teachings; and that communication amongst online community members are being conducted according to certain rules of conduct.
The youth, often dubbed as the digital generation who has an almost spontaneous grip of social media, are being called to be heralds of new evangelization.
Catholics are encouraged to make good use of their digital presence. They are being warned of the limits of digital communication such as “the one-sidedness of interactions, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing false image of oneself”.
Time and again, Catholic citizens of the net are reminded what social media is not: it is not a substitute for face to face encounter; it is not meant to further widen the gap between the privileged and the marginalized; it should not be an instrument to demean people of different views; or to in any form diminish human right. Instead, Catholics are encouraged to communicate in honest, responsible and respectful manner. In a world of speedy flow of information, we are also encouraged to intently listen and consider silence, too, as an effective way of communication.
New spaces for evangelization
Technology can be beneficial or destructive depending largely on how it is utilized. Social media with its tremendous effects is undeniable. It is clear that we must proclaim the Gospel there, too. By our own actions online we define a factor of our response on the call to “Go into the entire world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.”
Social media clearly provides new spaces for evangelization. The means by which people connect and communicate is always going to evolve. What is more important is the message than the means by which that message is conveyed. To quote Pope Benedict XVI, “if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means.”
This article was originally published in our parish’s official newsletter, “Ang Gintong Uhay”, released July 03, 2016.