Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, discussed a recent seminar in Rome for bishops responsible for social communication commissions around the world.
The theme of the conference is “New Perspectives for Church Communications; Changes in Technology in the Culture of Communications — a Theological and Pastoral Reflection.”
What are your main hopes for this conference?
We are trying to bring together the bishops in charge of social communications commissions in bishops’ conferences around the world.
These commissions are present in 82 countries. We’re holding it after the two congresses last year — for the faculties of social communications at Catholic universities and another for Catholic radios. Now we have this meeting, which is a necessary reference point of reflection.
The Holy Father’s theme for his Message for World Communications Day this year — “New Technologies, New Relationships” — also promotes a dialogue of respect, understanding and friendship, and we need to think about this with bishops.
So the line of this seminar is very simple: It’s to know exactly what is happening in the field of new technologies. So there will be a theological and pastoral reflection on these new technologies, and, afterwards, we will be trying to discover some pastoral lines for the Church today. Certainly, the Church is facing different realities. In the U.S. you have one reality, in Africa another.
The goal is always the same, but with different attitudes, because to have dialogue with people is always to have a dialogue with respect. But at the same time, we must discover little by little that new technologies are creating a new culture and that the Church feels the need to be present, to have a dialogue, and a fruitful dialogue, with this culture.
So this seminar has this goal: to help bishops discover what is happening, to have a theological and pastoral reflection, and then to decide what pastoral lines to follow just to help the Church promote and facilitate such a culture.
So it’s very much an attempt to carry out and fulfill the Pope’s message?
The idea derived from the Pope’s message because we really think this is our task. The Holy Father was touching on a positive point.
We know all the ambiguities and limits of new technologies, but the Holy Father is offering a positive attitude toward the new media. But at same time, the Holy Father is always stressing the new technologies are not only instruments but are creating a new culture. And this is why, for example, the Holy Father is present on YouTube.
The wish of the Holy Father is to be there, where the people are. And that’s not only a modern aspect — but, really, hundreds of millions of people are present on YouTube, on these social networks. The Holy Father thought it was good to be there, presenting to everybody who’s looking for truth.
Will the Vatican be taking part in any new digital technology initiatives like YouTube in the near future?
At this moment, for us, it’s more important that this can have a certain relevance because the other social networks are always the same in essence — Facebook and so on.
When I was in Dallas, a lot of people were thinking of promoting a Catholic social network, especially for the young generations.
A sort of Catholic Facebook?
In a certain sense, a Catholic Facebook. It will appear soon. I think it has already started operations, little by little.
Is the Vatican supporting it officially?
We’re not supporting it, but, certainly, we appreciate such an initiative because we know that many people, especially parents, are worried about what a child, the young generation, can find on these social networks. Just [recently], the Italian television presented a problem of small girls, age 13 years, who are chatting and receiving proposals of a certain kind.
We think it’s necessary to protect young generations, so we look upon this initiative with favor. We’re not supporting it because it’s not our task to support it, but, certainly, we’re looking with favor on such initiatives.
As you know, Cardinal Crecenzio Sepe has a Facebook page. Do you think it’s a good idea that prelates sign up on such sites to try and reach out?
You know, Facebook and YouTube are not the solution to everything.
The way of conversion, rediscovery of Jesus Christ, certainly can start from a reference point such as YouTube. But afterwards, they need an encounter with a real community.
That’s just a starting point for people who are afar, who don’t know too much. They can appreciate, discover a little bit, but afterwards, you cannot remain only on a virtual level. You need to open yourself to a real community of disciples of Jesus.
Are you supportive of this initiative of the Church in Italy to give up texting, Facebook and other virtual communications for Lent?
I tell you honestly: I like it. It’s not everything, but I’m not against it. For me, [the Internet] is a way to be present, to proclaim the Gospel from the rooftops. Why not? But afterwards, to really experience a meeting with Jesus Christ, you need an encounter with a community.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.