Two Filipino Catholics are harnessing the power of social media to spread the Gospel. With their increasing number of followers these two evangelizers are showing the youth that the widespread platform of social media is the way to communicate and connect.
PUBLISHED ONJul 2019
Pope Francis describes social media as “a gift from God” and encourages the youth to evangelize through the digital world. The 82-year-old Pontiff, considered the first social media Pope, has a huge number of followers on his various social media accounts. His @Pontifex account on Twitter has 18 million followers, while his @Franciscus account on Instagram has more than 5 million followers.
In the Philippines, the influence and reach of social media is more powerful. The latest WeAreSocial Global Digital survey revealed that Filipinos spend the most time on the Internet and social media. According to the survey, there are 67 million Internet and active social media users in the country, with 62 million Filipinos using social media on their mobile devices. Recognizing its immense power, two Filipino Catholics are harnessing social media to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Connecting Through Online Technology
Sky Ortigas is a techie who specializes in web design. She is also a devout Catholic who heard the call to evangelize and answered it passionately. In 2005, a year after graduating from the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering degree, she applied and was hired as a full-time mission worker of the Couples for Christ (CFC) Global Communications Foundation, Inc. Her first assignment was in the provinces, where she helped spread the Gospel in local communities. A year later, the CFC leadership assigned her to Africa.
“I never imagined myself working outside the Philippines. I wanted to stay here with my family and remain in my comfort zone. But I guess God had other plans,” says Sky. In January 2006, Sky travelled to Africa where she served in Kenya and Tanzania as a mission worker and member of the CFC Church Relations Office. As a single CFC missionary, she helped start communities and family ministries in the two African countries. Aside from designing and maintaining the local CFC website, she worked with children, teenagers and single adults in the CFC communities.
“I started blogging when I was in Africa to stay in touch with my family and friends in the Philippines. Blogging also served as my online diary about my mission work,” Sky says. In December 2007 her Africa assignment ended. Sky returned to the Philippines where social media had become very popular. She saw social media as a new platform for evangelization. As a web designer, she also realized the huge potential of utilizing online technologies to reach out to more people.
“I felt a deeper calling to online evangelization. God was letting me know that the digital world is where the skills He gave me could best be used,” says Sky, who is currently the website designer and social media manager for the Catholic media organization Areopagus Communications.
Today, Sky shares the Gospel through her various social media accounts. On her blog site “Stop and Smell the Coffee” (https://skyortigas.com/), she writes about her Catholic faith and lifestyle topics, including beauty product reviews, travel, and her love affair with coffee. On her YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/afortigas/videos), she posts video blogs or vlogs; the channel currently has 148 subscribers. Her @SkyOrtigas account on Twitter has more than 1,100 followers and her @SkyOrtigas account on Instagram has over 1,050 followers.
“With algorithms and analytics, the number of followers is not that important anymore. Reach is the key,” explains Sky. “As long as I reach and inspire even just one person online, it’s enough for me. God will do the rest.” Trolls, bots, haters and bashers are the “modern temptations”, warns Sky. “We should learn how to check facts by looking for credible sources, think before sharing, and pray before reacting.”
A Cyber-Spiritual Mission
Fr. Jojo Mallari loves to read the Bible and reflect on the Gospel. But he realized that the Holy Scriptures may not be readily accessible and understandable to many laypeople. He thought of using technology and social media to spread the Word of God while accompanying others in their journey to Jesus—a “cyber-spiritual mission” as he calls it.
On January 21, 2017 Fr. Jojo started writing his daily Gospel reflections and posting these on a Facebook page that he created, “What’s the Point” (https://www.facebook.com/WTPCybermission/). Encouraged by a friend, he posted his first video reflection on December 8 of that year, coinciding with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. His daily reflections on What’s the Point are simple, inspiring, sometimes humorous, and include references to current societal issues, making the Gospel relevant and relatable to a modern Filipino audience.
“What’s the Point started as a hobby, but it has turned into a mission which entails discipline, commitment, sacrifice and focus,” says Fr. Jojo, a Seminary Formator at the Maria Assumpta Seminary in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija.
Occasionally laid low by exhaustion and frustration, Fr. Jojo thought about discontinuing What’s the Point. But he persevered, driven by his evangelical zeal and inspired by words of gratitude and support expressed by his Facebook followers, which now total over 21,000. Fr. Jojo is no longer alone in his social media ministry. “God sent Bing and Ara Diaz, Janeen Navarro and Marc Caguntas who volunteered to do the video editing and other technical tasks. The apostolate becomes easier and fulfilling because of these selfless people.”
Among his Facebook followers are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “Our OFWs are grateful to What’s the Point for blessing them with the Word of God. They say that watching and sharing my video reflections have become part of their daily routine. Some even visit me to personally express their thanks.” On November 30, 2018, around 200 What’s the Point followers gathered for their first recollection and fellowship.
Affirmation from other priests has also been a big morale booster to Fr. Jojo. “It feels good to know that my brother-priests are inspired as well by our social media ministry.” In December 2018, a group of seminarians from the Maria Assumpta Seminary, including some of Fr. Jojo’s students, guested in What’s the Point and shared their video reflections during the simbang gabi. A Filipino Christmas tradition, simbang gabi is a series of eight dawn masses celebrated from December 16 to 23 culminating in a midnight mass on December 24. Fr. Jojo proudly shares that the seminarians now have their own program on vocation and seminary formation called “Chat Tayo Kabsat” (Let’s Chat Brother), which is aired through Facebook every Wednesday, 7:45pm to 8:15 pm. “Seeing my students utilize social media for evangelization gives me hope, inspiration and a sense of fulfillment.”
Fr. Jojo believes that social media, if used properly, is a powerful tool for evangelization. “Let us encourage young people to use social media not only for learning and entertainment, but for evangelization as well.” He warns that the devil sows hate and lies in social media to destroy lives. “To fight evil, we must put Christ in social media by proclaiming and living the truth.”