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Pastoral work in the digital era

Church needs to keep in step with communication developments to remain relevant and progressive

Father Ignatius Kim Min-soo, secretary of the Korean bishops’ Committee for Social Communications (File photo) Father Ignatius Kim Min-soo, secretary of the Korean bishops’ Committee for Social Communications (File photo)
  • Father Ignatius Kim
  • Korea
  • June 10, 2011
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The so-called Jasmine Revolution in parts of the Arab world has also been referred to as the “Social Networks Revolution” with the 21st-century medium of Facebook and Twitter being used as a tool by young people to organize, gather and topple authoritarian regimes. In countries where the press is under strict controls, social networks have become an alternative way of spreading news and opinions which have been suppressed for a long time.

The world has undergone big cultural transformations. Pope Benedict XVI noted in his message for the 45th World Communications Day on June 5: “Just as the Industrial Revolution brought about a profound transformation in society, so today the radical changes taking place in communications are guiding significant cultural developments.”

Today’s revolution in communications has greatly affected the Church and the form and contents of our faith. Therefore, the Church should take notice of the digital age and appropriately utilize digital culture by discerning its pros and cons.

In his 2010 message, the pope suggested priests proclaim the Gospel by actively using digital culture. The message also urged them to critically reflect on it for appropriate evangelization in the digital age. In other words, not only “evangelization through digital culture,” but “evangelization of digital culture” is needed to sort the darnel from among the wheat.

The evangelization of digital culture is based on Pope Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

He said in the exhortation: “Strata of humanity which are transformed: for the Church it is a question of affecting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation.”

People these days who advocate individualism are relatively weak and have a sense of alienation, so they keep trying to communicate with others to avoid anxiety. Such a desire has led to the development of social networking technology.

This is especially so in Korean society which is renowned for embracing the Internet technology revolution. In March, Korea’s high-speed Internet access rate was ranked fourth among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) member countries. And the number of smart phone users will increase from 10,020,000 to 20,000,000 by the end of this year. Now Koreans can access information anytime and anywhere, and customized information, or service, is also provided.

It is noteworthy that religions have also joined such trends. They have also begun to offer various smartphone applications.

Let me give some examples. The Catholic Church started a mobile web service (m.catholic.or.kr) providing information on the Bible, daily Missal, prayers and churches, as well as a GPS tracking service to find the nearest parish. Buddhists, meanwhile have offered the “temple stay” application providing information on local Buddhist temples and their programs. Protestants are trying to facilitate interactive communication with various applications such as Christian music, Bible reflection, homily video clips and Church news.

Such religious applications are expected to greatly influence the way people practice their faith.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict has also pointed out limitations typical of digital communication: “The one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence.”

He also stressed virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact, recommending we critically reflect on our choices to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting.

As Kierkegaard said, we should find “a truth which is truth for me.” In other words, the Christian way of being present in the digital world should be honest and open, responsible and respectful of others, as the pope’s message noted.

Therefore, the Church should seek a pastoral ministry appropriate for the digital age by reflecting on the great influence brought about by the digital communication revolution and which is new evangelization in a new era.

Father Ignatius Kim Min-soo is secretary of the Korean bishops’ Committee for Social Communications.

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