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April 28, 2020

Digital Evangelization: Sharing the Gospel online

Digital Evangelization: Sharing the Gospel online

As an online facilitator for some years, I have always been fascinated by an answer all my students in the Communications and Ministry course provide, when asked about Pope Saint Paul VI’s Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communications) from 1963. The question was more or less something like: “Has God created media and technology and entrusted humanity with it?” All of them mostly replied with a “YES”!

However, the document clearly opens with this statement:

“Among the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent, especially in the present era, have made with God's help, the Church welcomes and promotes with special interest those which have a most direct relation to men's minds and which have uncovered new avenues of communicating most readily news, views and teachings of every sort.” (IM, 1)

The Church uses the term “social communications” to designate all we today know as media. Of course, at that time, there was no social media in the way we know it today.

But maybe for the last 20 years, not only during my online courses but also in my experience as a pastoral leader, I had recurrently talked or heard about the need to use social media — until today, when it became a need to go online. Social distancing will for some time keep us away from the possibility to meet physically at the parish.

The crisis hit me while I was actually facilitating a new online course, which, by nature, is asynchronous. However, I realized most of my students would be at home. So, then, I realized I could eventually “break the rule” of all students joining at different times and asked them if they would be interested in joining me for a casual conversation online, all of us at the same time. They reacted positively. To make a long story short, the class was thrilled by the idea of at least trying to see each other and nurture the faith by sharing it.

“Primereando” during COVID-19

Evangelii Gaudium (EG), the apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis in 2013, coined a neologism: “primerear,” which has no translation or equivalent in English. It comes from “primero”, meaning “the first.” The English version of the document translates it as the Church that “goes forth” and I will add that it is not only a going forth in the sense of advancement, but more particularly in the sense of taking the initiative. God takes the initiative and loves us first, as Francis recalls citing the first letter of John: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn, 4: 10). Thus, Francis uses the “primerear” to give us the idea that we are called to go out to meet others first, we are called to take the initiative in evangelization. Far from waiting, the call to evangelization is a dynamic, proactive call. Following God’s example, we go out to meet others halfway; to encounter them and their own reality.

I used that opportunity to share with my students (also because the course was about EG) that I tried to take the initiative and motivate them to meet online. It was a very good moment to use the meaning of that “going forth” and realize that, we are all ultimately called to go forth, especially in these times in which we are not able to go physically out of our homes. But Francis was not making up these concepts out of these modern times, rather he was bringing or building upon the richness of the Magisterium, the teachings through the years. Pope Saint John Paul II had already used the term “New Evangelization” to refer to the need to reinvent and recreate the methods, forms and passion we all need to have to spread the Good News.

I think that our call today could be not only “going forth,” but also, doing it with creativity and passion — particularly, with all the limitations and restrictions we face today.

Fortunately, social media has been flooded these last weeks with messages from our pastors, talented people, presenters, musicians, along with Masses online and many other resources that are effectively feeding our faith. So, how can each one of us still be able to evangelize in these times of crisis? These are some ideas that can ignite your creativity to be a digital volunteer/evangelizer.

  • Encourage others: Simply share with parishioners the invitation to join Mass on Sunday, using Facebook or YouTube. Share the announcement on your personal Facebook page.
  • Digital usher: In coordination with your pastor, the Sunday Mass livestream on Facebook can be enriched by a team of ‘digital ushers:’ hospitality volunteers who welcome others joining the stream by letting them know about the Sunday they will be celebrating. Without overwhelming them, make them feel at home!
  • Digital monitor: Following the structure of Mass, the ‘digital monitor’ may lead people with a formal introduction to the main parts of the Mass: “We prepare now to enter the Liturgy of the Word,” or “As we present our gifts and intentions, we now enter the Eucharistic Liturgy,” for example. In a very discreet and nonintrusive way, the monitor may supply them with meaning and reverence during the livestream.

    A very important role of the monitor is also to encourage parishioners to join in online giving at the moment when collection is occurring. I have been serving in this position in coordination with my pastor, gently encouraging online parishioners to make donations. Here are some important elements to take into consideration for this invitation to ‘digital stewardship:’
    • It is important that the pastor start the invitation, followed by support from the digital monitor. As in a dialogue, the pastor leads parishioners to contribute, while the monitor supports the pastor’s message.
    • It is appropriate to share a link to an online donation page on the parish’s site.

All these ideas during Sunday Mass will not replace our roles serving as volunteers when parishes open again. But we can put our talents in motion, as evangelizers, and communicate that sense of community in the form of a dialogue. The most essential component of liturgy, the public aspect, could be communicated by putting our gifts and talents to participate actively in the liturgy.

  • Small groups: Another important evangelization component that can serve as inspiration for a genuine digital evangelization is the concept of small groups or cells. A format inspired by the early Church, a small group is probably the most accessible way for you to grow with others in faith. Within the free feature of instant messaging on almost all social media platforms, you can find a way to engage weekly or every other week with friends and family — reflect on the Word of God, the Gospel for the coming Sunday, or simply to share your concerns and ideas during these difficult times. Following the model of the first disciples, we all can find ways to grow in faith by simply sharing our faith with others.
  • Prayers of intercession: Small groups may also serve to intercede for others. We may evangelize by praying to intercede for the needs of the world, our local community, our family, health professionals and students. We should also pray for hope and patience.

You don’t need to be trained in theology to share what Jesus has done in your life or to share how difficult it is to follow Jesus in the midst of this chaotic reality. We are disciples, loved and rescued by the sacrificial love of Jesus. We are also his people, called to share that joy of love to each other and, ultimately, to those who don’t know him. As we move from the sadness of the Passion into a new life in resurrection, let us keep in mind the teachings of the Church in Evangelii Gaudium:

“Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.” (EG, 268)
Carlos Castañeda
Carlos Castañeda

Carlos Castañeda has had an extensive career as a pastoral leader in both parochial and diocesan settings. His background as a professional communicator and broadcaster has allowed him the opportunity to provide compelling presentations for ministry leaders and groups, discussing topics like intercultural communications, discipleship and evangelization. Carlos holds an master’s degree in communications from Marist College and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College.