A lamp should be on a lampstand. The lamp is the Good News of our Lord Jesus, and we are challenged to find every possible means to spread it. Pope Francis, in his message for the 53rd World Communications Day, said, “Ever since the internet first became available, the Church has always sought to promote its use in the service of the encounter between persons, and of solidarity among all.”
Are we, as Catholic evangelizers fully visible on this current form of media? Pope Francis himself has been alluded to as a rock star on this podium. His messages often flood Facebook and Twitter. We likewise credit Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his exhortation to specifically use social media in evangelization. It was under his papacy that the Vatican launched Pontifex, a Twitter account which now has 18 million followers under Pope Francis.
Catholic missionaries are already in cyberspace. However, we are challenged to do more. The Social and Hootsuite’s 2019 Digital Report cites that globally, 45% of the world’s population is social media users and that the average internet usage is 6 hours and 42 minutes. According to author Simon Kemp, “internet users are growing by an average of more than one million new users every day, with all of the original ‘Next Billion Users’ now online.”
Embracing this reality, how can we intensify Catholic evangelization online? It may be a good idea to research about the top concerns of Catholics, individuals from different walks of life and netizens. The key lies in having a listening heart. It might help to ask, “What are the trending topics these days? What do these reveal about the deep-seated needs of people?”
Based on these initiatives, we can use social media as an effective bridge builder instead of it being misused as an accessory to anger and isolation. Timeline posts on personal Facebook pages and on public pages trying to present various perspectives with a compassionate and respectful tone can bring about healing and unity.
Nowadays, the rates of depression and suicide are increasing worldwide. Taking the flock from where they are in terms of down-to-earth needs, we Church servants could initiate links geared towards healing depression through a psycho-spiritual approach. In the past, there has been a stigma and sometimes even a condemning tone towards such cases. But with the Church realizing its role of being a fount of Divine Mercy, we could create pages offering videos about understanding brokenness and drawing persons into the experience of God’s merciful love.
Some communities are now hiring social media managers to concentrate on running social media accounts where netizens feel the Church is accompanying them in their struggles. Through such avenues, people may ask questions about the faith, meaning in life, vocation, catechism and even receive some form of online counseling privately through chatting on Messenger.
We can use social media powerfully to proclaim the truth about how the Lord and the Church reach out to hearts that are longing for a purposeful direction. The Church can share about its charitable activities, not to parade its accomplishments, but to draw people into a deeper relationship with God personally and through a sense of community. Through Instagram and Twitter, brief messages about how persons could volunteer their time and resources would help in faster networking.
We need to use social media to promote what is praiseworthy and good in people. Many inspiring stories about discovering God and His intimate love for us can be presented through well-crafted videos and striking clips with appropriate music.
We could even enter into the realm of making online quizzes that awaken people’s interest and balance these with spirituality and Scriptures. Nowadays, people click on sites that seem controversial, only to find out that the link is selling them a product. We, on the other hand, could use catchy phrases and uplifting stories to positively entice netizens to read a longer but compelling article about the benefits of connecting with God. For example, there was an article that focused on the positive effects of prayer on the brain.
Through social media, we could open opportunities for people to pray, reflect and act concretely out of Christian love and charity. We could have circles of intercessory prayer online.
Beautiful pictures on Instagram — for example, stirring ones about God’s creation and intriguing and compelling ones about poverty and suffering— could jumpstart one to move beyond his comfort zone and start serving others.
We can create more social media applications that help people with their daily chores and insert inspirational and spiritual messages in between. Games can have positive undertones and teach values instead of brainwashing others to do wrong.
Perhaps a link saying, “We’re Here to Help” can be used to share tidbits about God and the Church in a very attractive manner. The point is to make it feel charismatic and inviting.
I have another friend who has an Instagram account which features cosmetics she uses, but she always finds a way to share about God. She uses a soft-sell approach rather than a stiff, intimidating and imposing one. Another friend posts blogs often and shares about spirituality in a very light way.
Having timelines where the approach is balanced, grounded, and updated with current events offers a realistic and humble way to share about the person of Jesus. We need to remember that we are not simply spreading doctrines and that the Church is not a killjoy as others might misinterpret Her to be. She prays to be a vessel of the reality of a person – our Lord Jesus, who is alive and who offers the deepest kind of love. Netizens need to experience Him, His hope and healing online, as well as offline, through us, the Church.
To Be More Connected
Pope Francis reminds us, “If a family uses the net to be more connected, to then meet at table and look into each other’s eyes, then it is a resource. If a Church community coordinates its activity through the network, and then celebrates the Eucharist together, then it is a resource. If the net becomes an opportunity to share stories and experiences of beauty or suffering that are physically distant from us, in order to pray together and together seek out the good to rediscover what unites us, then it is a resource.”
Let us respond proactively to God’s call, “No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light” (Luke 11:33).