The Catholic church has been called upon to reflect on how to harness the new methods of communication so as to continue to be relevant to the Catholic faithful.
The call was made by Mr George Winkar, the EWTN’s Regional Manager for Africa during a zoom conference hosted by the Union Catholique Africain de la Presse (UCAP), also known as the Africa Catholic Union of the Press.
Mr Winkar, the Keynote Speaker for the conference warned that if the church did not properly look after its own, some Catholics would migrate to other denominations which are ever ready to look after them.
The theme for the conference was, “The Role of New Media in Church Service During and After COVID-19“.
An Associate Professor of Media Studies at Daystar University in Kenya, Sister Professor Alice Lucy Lando, one of 5 panelists at the conference, said that online religious communities had been made possible through social media thus bringing priests and their congregation together.
She said that the pandemic had made Priests, as well as their congregants, more digitally conscious, re-awakened individuals and unearthed talents in the Catholic Church. She revealed that some priests had taken to farming to fend for themselves as well as their congregants.
Sr Professor Lando, who is the Director of Research and Postgraduate Studies at the University called for social media education to help in the proper use of the media, citing the example of how social media intrudes into one’s privacy. She observed that people needed to be conscious of their surroundings and what they were wearing when visible on social media.
She said that the church should not be afraid to use social media to proclaim the good news and asked that other media such as TV stations be established by the church. She remarked that this would enable the church have control over its programmes as against buying media time on other channels which limited them to those time bands.
Sr Professor Lando who is also a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Kakamega in Kenya called for training, collaborations and networking in the church.
Mr Martin Kudakwashe Matambo, a Communications Programmes Officer for the Jesuit Communications in Harare, Zimbabwe, underscored the need for research to find out what people really needed so as to be able to tailor programmes to meet those needs. He said that the pandemic had opened the church up to unlimited possibilities to reach out to the youth and prayed the church to seize all the opportunities that the media presented. He urged churches to have their own websites and blogs.
The Communications Officer for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Father Paul Tatu, said that media has a role to play in helping the church make use of the various media opportunities to bring the church closer to the people as some are very likely to stay away from the church even after COVID 19. He said that although restrictions had been somewhat relaxed in South Africa, some of the churches were still not opened because the procedures for opening were expensive and cumbersome.
Fr Tatu noted that people found it difficult to stand on their own without the church. They felt that the church was not in touch with them and those who were not on new media were left out. He said that some priests were also struggling to survive because they were no longer getting the usual support in terms of finances etc, from their congregation.
Madam Faustina Angmor, the Communications Officer for the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), advocated for security consciousness when using social media platforms and entreated people to continually update their softwares and change their passwords from time to time. She urged caution when plugging into unknown public websites.
Madam Angmor noted that there was the opportunity to brand oneself depending on the quality of information one put out on social media.
Mr George Sunguh, President of UCAP, appealed to Catholic media professionals to help package information for the church. He was grateful to all who made the programme a success and promised more of such interactions for the UCAP family.
He announced that there would be webinairs for the Francophones and hopefully, for the Lusophones as well.
The conference was moderated by Frank Mugabi of UCAP Uganda.