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Synod discusses the Church’s role in the digital world

By Sarah Mac Donald - 20 October, 2018

Delegates attending Synod assembly see the pastoral care of young people online and in social media, as well as the need for digital missionaries, as a priority.

The Church needs to use digital platforms and social media more effectively in order to reach out to young people.

The topic of social media and the Church was the focus of several presentations at the Synod on Young People, held in Rome on16–17 October.

According to Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications, the Synod assembly was repeatedly told that the Church can be part of the digital world and that it needs digital missionaries in order to achieve this.

Dr Ruffini said that the issue of the pastoral care of young people in the digital world was also discussed.

The Synod delegates considered how the Church can be active in the world of social media –  which is where young people are – but in a structured way through those who are protagonists of freedom and responsibility.

Bishop David Bartimej Tencer OFMCap of Reykjavík, Iceland, described the Church as having a very positive attitude towards the digital world.

Bishop Tencer said he had heard it repeated many times that a computer or phone is not good or bad, it is neutral.

He said that the people and Church in Iceland would be lost without the digital world, and that the Church organised catechism through platforms like Skype.

The Bishop said he often sat in front of a computer which put him in contact with young people, and he was able to talk to them in a very real way about their faith. He also availed of such opportunities to encourage them to download the Bible onto their phones. This, he underlined, was not decay but a positive development. The digital world was moving the Church forward and that was good.

Br Alois, Prior of the Taizé Ecumenical Community in France, explained how in Taizé listening is fundamental, and he said the whole Church needs to find a way of expressing openness and learning to listen.

Br Alois also mentioned the importance of ecumenism. He said that there were not many ecumenical delegates and he suggested that there should be more. But he added that it was beautiful to see that there was a concerted ecumenical effort.

He suggested that the Church should not organise prayers for young people but pray with them.

Maronite Bishop Joseph Naffah also spoken about ministering in the digital realm.

He explained how he ran a project in Arabic to stay in contact with young people online. The project is focused on catechism and has 550 students in different parts of the world engaged in it, including young people in prison.

He said that he was particularly moved by a young person who is paralysed and can only move his thumbs. Before this initiative, the youngster was limited to his bed but now he is in touch with the whole world.

According to Bishop Naffah there have also been some conversions through the project.

Expressing concern about many websites which claim they carry Catholic content but do not accurately reflect Catholic teaching, he called for the establishment of a special office in the Vatican that would check the pages of such sites and certify them as sites that do reflect the position of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Emmanuel Kofi Fianu from Ghana also spoke about the use of the digital world. He said that his particular interest was in getting the Word of God to young people.

He said that it was important for the Church to provide more digital platforms on the Word of God, as this would not only educate young people but help them become evangelisers.

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