THE NET AND FISHERS OF MEN | Pope Francis' social media manager shares views on spreading the Word

November 23, 2013 3:05 PM

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By: Tricia Aquino, November 23, 2013 9:57 PM

MANILA - Pope Francis has been a popular figure on social media lately, with photos of him embracing two disfigured persons on separate occasions going viral this month. While the team that manages his online presence are not natives of the Internet, its members nevertheless know that when it comes to new technology, sometimes actions speak better than words, especially when spreading the Good News.

Msgr. Paul Tighe, Pontifical Council for Social Communications secretary and leader of the team behind Pope Francis’ Twitter account, @Pontifex, delivered the keynote address during the first day of the Catholic Social Media Summit Version 2.0, Saturday at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila.

He began his speech by saying that while he was glad to be in Manila, it was also a sad time. Thus the faithful must provide support, care, and love to those who suffer. Pray for them, and give as much as they can.

Much of his talk, however, contained pointers for Netizens as they use social media as a tool for evangelization.

1. Always begin by asking, “Who is the Word?”. It is not a message, but a person who shows them the fullness of God’s love and invites us into a relationship, said Tighe.

What Catholics try to do on the Internet is different from what others do. The former invite others to become people of love and followers of Christ. They share something they believe is for the good of all. They must also remember that Christ is still with them, and is not just a person who was of history from 2,000 years ago.

He is especially present, said Tighe, “When two or three gather in (Christ’s) name”.

2. The Church needs to have open doors, as Pope Francis said, so others can feel that it is a home in a world that is judgmental and harsh.

While different groups attack each other online, the faithful must break out of that cycle and be inclusive. How? Through their fidelity to Christ, and by always trying to close the gap between what they say and what they do.

How do people perceive them from the outside? If Catholics talk about love and people see in them power, if Catholics talk about generosity and people see in them wealth, these things undermine their efforts to communicate the Word of God, said Tighe.

3. As the Roman Catholic Church, its members look to Rome in different ways. This, said Tighe, is the center of unity and governance.

Its traditions have meaning, as well. They could have just Tweeted who the new Pope was earlier this year. However, the smoke signals, with its accompanying slowness of communication, tension, and excitement during the wait revealed the magic of basic communication, said Tighe.

Nevertheless, the Chuch can also be seen as a network. Most Catholics became members of the faithful through their relationships, said Tighe. Growing up in Ireland, he met the Church through his parish community, with its school run by nuns who were also missionaries in India, and another group of missionaries involved in the Philippines. Young as he was, he was already connected to the world.

4. New technology changes relationships, society, and culture. Tighe recalled how, as a student, if he wanted to look something up, he had to go to the library. Now, students can just use their smart phones and connect to the Internet.

Before, if someone wanted to say something to the public, they had to go on TV, radio, or newspaper. Now people could just post something online.

Before, classmates said goodbye after graduation and would rarely see each other again. Now, they could just build a Facebook group.

The broadcast model, with an active speaker and passive receiver, was no longer. While initially wary of print, news, cinema, radio, or TV, the Church saw that these could be used as new forms of the pulpit, and could reach more people.

These things change how Catholics are present in the world, said Tighe. Catholics should consider how they are to evangelize in this context. Even the way the Church is perceived – from a pyramid with the Pope at the top and the laity at the bottom, to a network of these different members of a Church – is also changing.

5. Digital is real. People do their banking online, talk to their friends online. Thus, the Church must be present here. This is why they invited the Pope to create a Twitter account, said Tighe.

It is easy to put something on YouTube, create a blog, or do a podcast, and just leave it at that, he said. But because people comment, share, and criticize, Catholics must be present actively – listen to questions, answer them, and be open to scrutiny.

Social media is an extraordinary blessing to humanity, said Tighe, adding that one had to have been alive 30 years ago to appreciate what a wonder it is.

6. Beware of the risks in social media. The poor might be left behind in the digital divide. Users may also be distracted, or become too focused on their gadgets that they forget the people surrounding them.

“Let us be aware of fracturing community in wanting to create community,” said Tighe.

Sexuality can also become self-obsessed, rather than an invitation to love. Cheap, rather than pure, he added.

The Church’s words, icons, and rituals do not always speak to the young people. To be understood, they must take advantage of stories, images, and parables. Tighe added that Catholics must show, rather than tell. They can create beautiful things to express themselves in this new environment. Before, for example, faith was expressed in art, cathedrals, and music. Now, it can be manifested through apps, YouTube, and Facebook.

Do not keep saying no. The Church is known for saying no to contraception, no to euthanasia, and no to abortion. Catholics must remember, said Tighe, that their “no” to these things is rooted in the “yes” of Christ. They must start with the “yes”, to life, goodness, and justice, for example, so that their “no” makes sense.

Tighe also quoted Pope Benedict as saying, “There is s a time to speak about Jesus, and a time to just let love speak.”

“It’s not about us,” said Tighe. Let God touch human hearts. Let the mystery do its work. People can be instruments, but must not get in the way.

Pope Benedict said that Catholics should not just quote passages from the Bible to prove that they are faithful. It is about who they are, said Tighe.

Pope Benedict also said that Christians in social media should give the Internet a soul, engaging others to go deeper and reach in the depths of their humanity.

Catholics must be good pilgrims, said Pope Francis, people who walk with the crowd, share their journey, listen, provide support, and accompany them on their journey towards Christ. Good pilgrims do not walk ahead or lag behind.

9. Work together, said Tighe. Let the person who writes well, write well; the person who draws well, draw well; the person who speaks well, speak well.

“Praise young people and they will rise to the occasion,” said Tighe. There are no social media gurus for the Church, and they need to trust the youth to help them with these new forms of communication. “We need to be willing to try.”

He also urged the youth to go to, a website for the latest news around the Church, and share from it. “Tell us what you like and what you don’t, so we can learn from you.”

He added that Catholics should not be tied down with certain technology because there would always be something to replace it. They must only use those that serve its purpose of communication.

10. The Church will only be able to communicate the Word of God if they allow it to shape them and change them.

When they pray, they are connected to the source of connectivity, linked to something bigger than themselves. In silence they are also able to listen and enable others to speak, thus entering into a dialogue, an encounter.

Tighe advised the religious to find places online that can nourish their faith.

He added that Catholics must civilize social media. When faced with a “nasty” comment, they need to slow down, think, and respond from a good place. They should turn the other cheek, and not leave the Internet to the trolls. The faithful must talk about the truth in gentleness and in love.


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