By Fr. Arasu Lazar SDB
Areopagus is the place in Athens where St. Paul delivered his memorable sermon to the earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place. It was one of the first attempts of St. Paul to reach out to the elite with the message of the Gospel. (Acts 17:16-34) Indeed, he understood what it means to be an Evangelizer and what Evangelization is.
Need for New Evangelization
Evangelization denotes the proclamation of the Good News—Salvation is through Jesus Christ. Down through the centuries, to our own times, the Popes, saints and Christian apologists have stressed the importance of evangelization and urged the evangelizers to develop fresh approaches in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ fitting of the particular age and situation. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke of New Evangelization that will appeal or rather capture the attention and meet the faith needs of the modern men and women. In our time, many, especially the youth are confused about morals, and not familiar with religious traditions.
Modern culture, and more so, youth culture has become pluralistic (diverse and ambiguous), relativistic (unable to make a decisive conclusion, compromising on faith) and long treasured doctrines and practices are easily overlooked. This situation is more so worsened by other secularistic principles and practices such as: materialism, consumerism and individualism. All lead to hedonism—pleasure-seeking ideals leading to debauchery and decadence.
Social Media as an ideal tool for New Evangelization
During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of New Evangelization. He upheld re-evangelizing the people of the traditional/ancient Christian background, largely the European Christians who weaned on Christian faith. It was an attempt to bring them back to Christ and to rekindle in them Christ’s message. Now, nearly ten years later, we have discovered another Areopagus; the digital world, the internet and more recently, social media. The users, who are mugged by it all the time, use this media to reach out to more people. It would be handy to evangelize this media itself, in the Christian path; to purify it of all vices and depravities.
As Areopagus was not easy to St. Paul and as New Evangelization was not easy for Pope Benedict XVI, the field of Social Media will not be easy for the digital-evangelizers. It is the new Areopagus—the latest arena where majority of today’s people, especially the youth gather to chat, facebook, twit and whatsapp everyone, near and far. However, as more and more people are hooked to digital and social media, there is also so much negativity attributed to it. To avert the situation, we are invited to evangelize using this media and evangelize the tool of evangelization itself.
Social media allows us to communicate with hundreds and thousands of people. In fact, using social media to witness to Christ and hopefully, to evangelize in his name, starts by treating social media as an end in itself, not just a means to an end. As Pope Francis, in his 2016 message for World Communications Day, concurred, “Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather, the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”
Social Media, such as Whatsapp, besides being used for socialization and fun, can be an ideal tool for catechesis and evangelization. There are many individuals and organisations using social media for disseminating liturgical readings, sermons, reflections and catechetical materials on a daily basis. They reach the flock instantly, cheaply and in a user-friendly way. For example, there is an informal “media house” called Arulvakku, meaning Divine Word in Tamil language (of India). The “Arulvakku” is run by two priest-brothers, one ministering from Canada and another ministering from India. They effectively manage this enterprise that serves over 10,000 on a daily basis. They use internet radio, mails, facebook and whatsapp groups; pp/Facebook/Email group.
Good News Vs. Fake News
With meaningful content, we can effectively use social media to bring people to encounter Christ every single day, and every single moment. However, we are also aware of social media becoming a platform for gossip, rumour-mongering, and for spreading calumny. Social Media often becomes a tool for hate-speech and violence of all kinds. As Christians, we have an opportunity to counter-act fake news with the Good News. Inspired by Christ’s own evangelization and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, our news should be of love, joy and peace. Social Media is ideal for disseminating inspiring and comforting quotes from Scripture, live streaming of Holy Masses and spiritual events, and sharing catechetical videos that bring out the richness of our Catholic tradition.
Putting our Social Media Evangelization in focus
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Communications Committee’s soul-searching questions can help in our New Evangelization using Social Media.
• What does New Evangelization look like in the communication world?
• How can we help build stronger relationships with our millions of parishioners?
• How can we increase the effectiveness of our work in sanctifying, teaching and governing by using the tools of the 21st-century communications?
The answers are simple: We need to be Apostles with modern sensibility, creativity and courage to reach out to others who are hungry for the Word and communion with the Church.
These suggestions could help priests and pastoral agents in evangelizing using social media:
1. Ask and you shall receive. If you have any social media related question, there are usually so many people willing to help you out. This is particularly the case on Twitter or Facebook or Whatsapp.
2. Create a parish blog: Keep it simple, fun and engaging. Make sure everyone is there to voice their opinion. You can have the different parish ministries in charge of blogging each day so that the load doesn’t fall on one person.
3. Create a Facebook fan page for your parish: It’s the perfect place to evangelize and spread the Good News. Also, it is great to ask for prayers and make all kinds of activities together like a pro-life cyber march or a rosary.
4. Create a YouTube channel for the parish: Record the homilies, christenings, confirmations, special messages and your message for the week. A real interesting way of using the channel is to ask parishioners for testimonies. You’ll be surprised at what people have to say about how God is acting in their everyday life.
5. Learn: Don’t be afraid to learn and be open to explore new tools and techniques.
But always keep in mind: there is nothing more authentic, no narrative more powerful and no message more challenging than the Gospel.
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