Announcing theGood News
Table of Contents
"CyberspaceE-mailInternetwebsitehome page...."These are but a few words that point to a communication explosion anda new communication culture before which "we may feel helplessoverwhelmedand inadequate." Fr Alfred Hubenigin this paper prepared for thecapitulars of the 1998 General Chaptercomes back to an oft-repeatedtheme of our Oblate documents"Oblates and communication."He presents an update of the challenges todayand offers some specificproposals for meeting the challengeeven for those who are not or willnever become experts.
Fr. Hubenig (St. Mary’s Province) is the CanadianRegion’s representative on the Oblate Communication (OBCOM) NetworkAnimation Committee.
We make use of this occasion to remind our readers thatOMI Documentation and OMI Information are available on theInternet in EnglishFrench and Spanish at <http://www.omiobcom.org>.
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In 1816 Eugene de Mazenod looked about his native Provenceand saw a situation that called for "apostolic men deeply consciousof the need to reform themselvesmen who would labour with all the resourcesat their command to convert others." And he observed"How vastthe field that lies before them! How worthy and holy the undertaking!"(Preface)
Todaythe successors of those first few apostolic menfind themselves in fields even more vast and dauntingand in an undertakingno less worthy and holy than in 1816. The 1986 general chapter of theCongregation observed:
When announcing the Good News in today’s secularizedworldone of the major challenges the missionary Oblate faces is theinformation and communication explosion. Never before in the history ofhumankind have such vast amounts of information intruded upon our livesso pervasively and with such instantaneousness. Indeedthe phenomenongoes far beyond merely transmitting information. The computer is creatinga new communication culturea technological and cultural revolution farsurpassing anything the industrial revolution of the 19th centurybrought about. The European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Societystated in a 1996 report:
Before such an onslaught we frequently feel helplessoverwhelmed and inadequate to the task. And yet our charism and our callingas apostolic men sends us out to preach the Good News to the poor andthe abandoned in this daunting new world.
A Universal Phenomenon
All over the industrial world the digitalized languageof ones and zeros that make up computer data is cross-pollinating thecommunication media and changing the way households function. Televisionby the year 2000 will integrate the telephonea personal computer withWorld Wide Web accessinteractive programmingand even a video gamesystem. Prototypes for much of this technology are already in place. 2.2million tiny mirrorsfor exampleare already on a postage-stamp-sizedchipmoving in unison to produce stunning TV imagesand hologram transmissioninto homes is on the planning boards. The set-top boxlong in use throughoutmuch of western Europe to connect consumers to services such as pay-forview televisionon-line shoppingticket purchases and bankingis nowpreparing to launch into computer-generated ITV (interactive television)with video-on-demandthe World Wide Web and the fabled "500 channels."At the same timemany life-skills are already being learned through virtualreality.
But a radically changing world is not reserved to theindustrial nations. In the Third Worldthere is not a jungle or an outbacknot a desert or a mountaintopnot an isolated cabin in the bush or asteamy favela in a megalopolis that does not at least have itstransistor radios; and even nowa growing crop of television antennaeis sprouting in many of these placespulling in the signals of metropolitanor small rural transmitters. Not only is this new revolution bringingthe global village ever closer to realityit is making the global universityboth an increasing possibility and a double-edged sword that could makethe gap between the well and poorly educated even greater. Federico MayorDirector General of UNESCOcommented:
The InformationRevolution Impacts on the Good News
The Oblate Charismwithin the Informational Revolution
Communicating theGood News in a New Language
Are we familiarizing ourselves with this new sensateand intuitive language of the media culture to effectively "bearwitness to God’s holiness and justiceannouncing the liberatingpresence of Jesus Christ in a new world born in his resurrection?"(C.9) Are we equipped to incarnate that same Jesus Christ into the image-retainingconsciousness of today’s most abandoned so that the agora of massmedia becomes the areopagus of the Good News of the Unknown God?
In 1992 the Oblate General Chapter observed that themedia have a determining influence on the contemporary person and areincreasinglythereforean integral part of evangelization. Accordinglyin their closing statement the chapter members incorporated the following:
Has anything concrete been undertaken in this regard?
Pope John Paul II has also made an urgent appeal:
The Pope wants it.
The document says "all Jesuits" but we couldjust as well substitute "all Oblates." Our Constitutions andRules remind us that as Oblates "We are members of the propheticChurch¼ We announce the liberating presence of Jesus Christ andthe new world born in his resurrection. We will hear and make heard theclamour of the voiceless." (C. 9) In the present contextthis wouldcertainly seem to imply a renewed approach in the struggle for justiceand at least a grounding in communication ethics.
Communication –not just for Experts
Learning a new language is not easy. Any missionarywho has had to do so has felt the initial frustration of listening tothe ease with which children express themselves while we try breakingthrough the barriers of alien thought patterns and twisting our protestingtongues around unaccustomed sounds. But once we were able to communicatein the language of the peoplewhat a difference it made to our credibilityand to the credibility of our message! It is no different in today’scomputerized cyberworld. We stumble and stammer into a world where evenchildren play with ease. It can be uncomfortable; it can be frustrating– even embarrassing at times. The alternative is to remain snuglyon the outsidedoing what we have always done in the same way we havealways done it – and dooming ourselves to technological illiteracywherein we announce a message of Good News that will go largely unheard.But such an alternative is not of our Oblate charism. Saint Eugene continuesto call Oblates today to be "apostolic men deeply conscious of theneed to reform themselvesmen who would labour with all the resourcesat their command to convert others." (Prefacep. 8)
And Still AnotherFactor in the Equation – the Internet
While the United StatesJapan and Canada remain inthe forefrontthe number of connections to the Internet in other countriesis far from insignificant. In FranceGermany and Britainthe Internethas now surpassed connections to other new media (notably cable and satelliteconnections).12 Throughout Asiamoreoverit is proliferatingat astounding speedand one of Mainland China’s preoccupations inthe takeover of Hong Kong on July 11997is precisely the Territory’swidespread use of the Net.13 To the southbecause a news agencypublished an item about Bolivian miners on the InternetOblates in Boliviareceived Spanish e-mail via the Internet from all over the world. We aredealing with a worldwide phenomenon that can only grow.
The Internet’s great drawing card is its interactivity(being able to communicate on a computer monitor with people around theworld). Through itmuch of today’s interpersonal communication andlively discussion are taking place. An incredible number of open forumsand "chat rooms" provide an opportunity for users to join indebates and garner information of all kinds. That is what could make ita privileged areopagus on which to announce the Good News. St Eugene admonishedus wherever new needs arisenew means should be found. There is a newneed in evangelizationand the Internet appears to be a new means tocarry it out.
What Can We DoSpecifically?
1. A Theologyof Communications
Should Oblates not be doing the same thing at the generalregional and provincial levels of the Congregation? A plan for socialcommunications in a region or in a province would go a long way to dispelfeelings of helplessness and inadequacy experienced by so many communitiesand individual Oblates facing the problems of evangelizing in today’sInformation Society. An appendix to Ætatis Novæ spellsout some of the elements that such a plan should include: 1) A statementof vision that addresses contemporary issues and conditionsand identifiesstrategies for all ministries. 2) An inventory describing the media environmentof the regionincluding audiencespublic and commercial media producersresourcesdelivery systemsetc. 3) A proposed structure for Church-relatedcommunications in support of evangelization. 4) Media education with specialemphasis on the relationship of media and values. 5) Pastoral outreachto and dialogue with media professionals. 6) A financial plan to makethis ministry viable (Ætatis Novæ24).
3. Make Friendsin the Media
The Holy Father throws us a challenge in that last sentence.It does little good to complain of bias in reporting and programming ifwe are not prepared to do something about it. Of their naturemedia peopleare not necessarily hostile to the Church or to the Good News. Frequentlythey look for sensation and operate more out of preconceived notions ofthe faith and out of ignorance than out of malice. That makes it importantfor usas a first stepto have friends among themto bein a sensechaplains of the Media ( persons whom they trust to be straightforwardpersons upon whom they can call when questions arise. In some ways maintainingfriends in the Media can be a strong complement to religious radio andtelevision which by and large reach out mostly to the converted and elderly.15Ideallywe would do well to have contacts in all three arms of the Media:pressradio and television. The concept of such a chaplaincy has far-reachingmerits.
4. Become Activeon the Internet
But the great attraction of a well-put-together Webpage will be the interactivity of its "chat room" where interestedor curious searchers can engage with Oblates in computerized discussionselectronically dialoguing and asking questions on any matters they chose.And the beauty of such discussions is that from the computer in his officeor rectory an Oblateanywhere in the province (or anywhere in the worldfor that matter) can at any time "enter" and join in the dialogue.This takes dialogue to another level – dialogue with mostly youngerpeople all over the worldmany of whom seldom if ever enter a churchor take part in traditional religious practices. In such chat rooms wehave the opportunity to truly introduce people who are among the mostabandoned in today’s world to the Unknown God – people who arerarely if ever touched by the Church. One of St. Eugene’s prime concernsas a young priest was the unattended youth of Aix. I believe he wouldhave loved the Internet because today it can put us in touch with abandonedand alienated young people in the entire world.
The Oblate General Administration is to be congratulatedon opening its very attractive Web-site on the Internet (<http://www.omiobcom.org>).Hopefully this will be kept updated and even expanded with chat room interactivity.It would also be a masterful site for the Information Service to providethe Congregationand especially the various Oblate magazines and reviewswith instantaneous news as it happens. The bulletins are informativebut by the time they reach a magazine editor’s desk they are historyrather than news. The Internet could change all this.
5. In the ThirdWorldMore Radio
2000 — a Yearof Jubilee
May this also be our aim. A new moment of grace is athand. Let us embrace it with a hunger.
2. UNDA Newsno.4-51996. Andrzej Koprowskiof Polish Television reported that while much of the privatised mediain Poland have been cornered by the old guard nomenklaturasomeoutlets have gone to opposition groups. Moreover PolandHungarytheCzech RepublicSlovakiaSlovenia and Croatia now have satellite direct-to-homeservices available.
3. Federico Mayorin The UNESCO CourierDecember1996pp.38-39.
4. Pope John Paul II: Ætatis NovæIno. 4.
5. BauschWilliam J.: The Parish of the Next MillenniumTwenty-Third PublicationsMysticCTUSAp.234.
6. Pierre BabinOMI: Evangelization and Mediapp.84-5; OMI DocumentationRomeno. 181May 1991.
7. Pope John Paul II: Ætatis Novæno. 21.
8. CREC/AVEX in Ecully (Lyon) and Local AVEX in variousregions; the Communications Institute at St. Paul University in Ottawathe Centre St-Pierre Apôtre and SAVO in Montreal.
9. Cardinal Etchegaray’s message to journalistsduring the Pontifical Council for Social CommunicationsMarch 4-81996.
10. Documents of the Thirty-Fourth Congregation ofthe Society of Jesus; Decree Fifteenno. 389Curia of the SuperiorGeneralRome1995.
11. Nielsen Demographics Recontact Studyp.4. Internetaddress: http://www.commerce.net/nielsen/exec.html.
12. UNESCOOctober 1996.
13. TripodNo. 94July-August1996pp.51-52Hong Kong. On June 211996a year before the takeoverCardinal JohnBaptist Wu Chen-chung hosted a private dinner in Hong Kong. Invited werethe head of Mainland China’s Religious Affairs BureauYe Xiaowenand some sixty leaders of the Territory’s six main religious bodies:BuddhistsCatholicsConfucianistsMuslimsProtestants and Taoists.Ye Xiaowen asked only two questions of the Catholic representatives: 1)Where does the Church get financing for its seminaries and schools? 2)Are church bodies in Hong Kong linked with the Vatican through the Internet?
14. Pope John Paul II: Communicating Jesus: the Waythe Truth and the Life; Message for the 31st World CommunicationsDayJanuary 241997.
15. George GallupJr.and Jim Castelli: The AmericanCatholic People: Their BeliefsPractices and ValuesDoubleday &Co.Inc.New York1987.
16. John Paul IIibid.
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