At a Sept. 28 dinner celebrating Our Sunday Visitor's 100th anniversary, Archbishop Claudio M. Celli emphasized the crucial role of new media in evangelization.
Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor's publishing division, told CNA that the Vatican official's remarks were seen as “certainly encouraging for what we're doing, and what other Catholic publishers are doing.”
During the celebration, Archbishop Celli told the crowd, “It is not enough to ask how we can use the new media to evangelize; we must begin by appreciating how radically our way of living has been transformed by new technologies and how the media environment or landscape has changed.”
The dinner at the Grand Wayne Convention Center followed a Mass at the cathedral in Fort Wayne. Archbishop Celli serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
He focused on the challenges the Church faces as she seeks to evangelize through the new media, and remembered the founder of Our Sunday Visitor, then-Father John Noll, as someone who would today “be at the forefront of the New Evangelization.”
Archbishop Celli suggested that the “new” in “new evangelization” is both “the situation in which we find ourselves” and “the response that is required if we are to be faithful to our abiding mission” to foster encounter with Christ.
People's constant access to instant information and communication represents a paradigm shift in “the very culture of communication,” he said.
Erlandson noted that as part of this paradigm shift, Our Sunday Visitor has a social media manager “using Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook” and that those conversations get shared “internally as well as happening externally.”
Archbishop Celli pointed to the changing nature of internet culture, one that is now more focused on dialogue and interaction than on monologue. He said that while the Church should continue to focus on the content of faith, she must also look to the concerns and questions of her online audience.
He noted that developing “dialogical forms of teaching and presentation” were anticipated by Archbishop Noll, who promptly replied to every letter he received.
There is a need, the archbishop said, to communicate the faith not through text alone, but using “art, music and literature” to show how grace is working in the lives of Catholics.
He noted that the Church must adapt to the egalitarian nature of new media; “it does not automatically recognize or privilege the contributions of established authorities or institutions.”
This, he said, means that Church leaders must convey the gospel such that they can engage and “convince others who in turn will share our ideas with their friends, followers and dialogue partners.”
Erlandson thought that the archbishop's words acknowledging that “these forms of communication demand a back and forth, demand dialogue,” were “a courageous statement.”
He said the dialogue now occurring online is “the essence of evangelization.”
The laity, Archbishop Celli pointed out, are essential to the new evangelization. Their online presence can attract others to Christ and they can help to teach the faith.
“Father Noll provided the faithful with A Vest Pocket Book of Catholic Facts so that they would be able to answer questions about, and address challenges to, their faith. One can only guess what he might have achieved with smart-phones!”
This point was backed-up by Erlandson, who characterized Archbishop Noll as “a classic early adopter.”
Archbishop Celli concluded saying, “Every Catholic should be an apostle, representing his Church creditably before his neighbors and the people among who he works.”