By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Communication directors from IMBISA have been challenged to drive Church media work to greater heights by giving a voice to the voiceless in the region. The communicators who were drawn from IMBISA’s nine member countries of Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Eswatini, Mozambique Sao tome and Principe were encouraged to promote a culture of encounter that represent each single voice through the provision of correct and up-to-date information.
IMBISA Bishop in Charge of Communication, Jose Luis Gerardo Ponce de Leon IMC, told Communication Directors gathered at Lumko Pastoral Institute in South Africa from 28 August to 01 September 2023 to prioritize the use of new media technologies to embody the voice of the Church amid a diversity of voices in Southern Africa. He said the Church media in IMBISA region should promote the proclamation of the Gospel and be a voice of those who cannot represent themselves.
“Each country is different and as we develop things locally we should be ready to share our stories across the borders so that it can be spread around. The Church is alive and the journey of the people in Zimbabwe and other parts of Southern Africa is important for us and communication should help us support and enrich each other. Social media has the power that allows us to reach so many people with the Gospel in our hearts. Today, the social media offers us free space to share information and as Bishops we need to treasure this,” Bishop Ponce de Leon said.
Bishop Ponce de Leon also called upon Bishops and communicators of IMBISA to wholeheartedly embrace social communication as a tool for evangelization and to capitalize on the free space provided by social media to share information. He said the church media should actually help amplify the message of the Gospel and as such the Bishops should support this important enterprise.
The Bishop highlighted on the need for ongoing formation and training of Catholic journalists on new media technologies and their benefits and challenges to the Church. He challenged the bishops of IMBISA to promote continuity of personnel so as to develop vibrant communications in the region.
“One has to believe that this is important and has an impact on our efforts to evangelize,” he said.
Sr. Olga MAssango FSP applauded the presence of social media which she said can be used to connect people and to better the work of social communications in the church if it is used properly. She warned against the misuse of social media to attack each other or to settle scores.
“Among the digital highway, many people are hurt by division and hatred. We cannot ignore it. We cannot be just silent passersby. In order to humanize digital environment, we must not forget those who are left behind,” said Sr. Massango.
She stressed the potential influence that the media can have on the recipients and urged communicators to go beyond concentrating on the number of followers or likes at the expense of detail and substance. She also noted that the Church’s social media should be guided by Christian values and remain faithful to the Christian tradition in their dissemination of news and information.
“Our social media presence usually focuses on spreading information. Along these lines, presenting ideas, teachings, thoughts, spiritual reflections and the like on social media needs to be faithful to the Christian tradition,” she said.
Sr. Olga added that Communication Directors should be rooted in God’s love in order for them to be effective in their work while she also encouraged them to develop a communication style that is inspired by the Gospel.
Communication Directors from IMBISA presented reports on successes and challenges that they face in growing media and communications work in Southern Africa. The reports indicated the general lack of resources as a serious drawback in the implementation of communication programs. The meeting also deliberated on the way forward for IMBISA focusing on ways to mitigate challenges that stifle church media work in the region.
The media practitioners also discussed the role of communication in the synod as an inclusive means to involve all people to participate in the process and follow proceedings as shared by Sheila Pires, the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference Communications Officer, who is also a lay delegate to the Synod on Synodality.
“For the Church to be more synodal, our work as Catholic journalists should be aimed at building bridges. In a synodal Church, we journey together. Communicators should promote social cohesion, moral values, a welcoming spirit, and integration of people on the move. Our stories and our reporting should be based on promoting justice for the marginalized,” said Pires
Other issues covered during the conference include challenges in technology, data protection, and cyber security for the church today and the relevance of the church’s voice in the public sphere.
Fr. Veranus Gwanitheni from the Episcopal Conference of Namibia, challenged the church to move with the signs of time especially in data protection in a world of communication that is characterized with fake news, misinformation and disinformation. He said cyber security was critical for both individuals and organizations to safeguard their data and information as well as their image.