WYD pilgrims learn techniques to defend, explain faith

ounder of Catholic Voices with Alejandro Bermudez Exec Dir of Catholic News Agency talk to WYD pilgrims July 24 Credit Michelle Bauman CNA CNA 7 26 13 Austen Ivereigh, Founder of Catholic Voices, with Alejandro Bermudez, Exec. Dir. of Catholic News Agency, talk to WYD pilgrims July 24, 2013. | Michelle Bauman/CNA.

Participants at a World Youth Day training session received a crash course in defending the Catholic faith, both in the media – including social media – and around family members, friends and coworkers.

"It's that moment when people turn to you and say, 'You're a Catholic, aren't you? How can you justify that?'" said Catholic Voices founder Austen Ivereigh, journalist and author of "How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice."

Ivereigh explained that he co-founded the Catholic Voices project in the U.K. in 2010 because he wanted to ensure "that Catholics knew how to communicate when the media spotlight was on them."

The program is now present in 12 countries, including Brazil, he continued. While it prepares people to interact with the media, is can also be useful to equip the faithful in the workplace, at family gatherings and hanging out with friends.

"We have to be prepared, above all...in that place of greatest tension between the Church and society," he said.

Ivereigh delivered a talk on how to successfully defend the faith in the modern world and answered questions from pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro on July 24. He was joined by Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency, who added suggestions on how to apply these principles to modern methods of social media.

The event, sponsored by CNA and Catholic Voices USA, was held in both English and Spanish and drew an international crowd of young people.

Ivereigh, who has been a journalist for years, rejected the portrayal of the media as anti-Catholic. Rather, he said, media outlets reflect the frame of modern society, which is their audience.

To be successful, the New Evangelization requires a new apologetics that understands these "frames" of our society, he explained.

Developed in 2010, Catholic Voices helps the faithful recognize modern frames and offer alternative frames that better explain the truths of the Catholic faith.

The first step in doing this is understanding the contemporary frame, how the Church is being seen, Ivereigh said. Then, Catholics must work to understand the value behind the criticism of the Church, which "often comes from a distorted Christian perspective." From there, they can identify with that value as they begin their answer to the question being posed.

Ivereigh warned against the common attitudes of anger, defensiveness and naiveté, which cause problems for those trying to explain the faith to others. 

"When you're angry, that's the only thing people see and the only thing people hear," he said, explaining that people will notice your anger and miss your message.

In addition, we are not able to "propose to our society the reasons for believing what we believe" when we are stuck in a defensive mode, he said. And those who are naive and fail to "understand the frames that our society puts on the Church" will not be able to step outside the frame and offer a new perspective, delivering a message that needs to be heard in an understandable way.

Ivereigh also shared helpful principles in defending the faith, such as being positive and compassionate, focusing on witnessing rather than winning a debate, speaking from experience, telling stories and seeking to shed light, not heat.

Bermudez then offered tips to apply these principles to the world of social media.

"The principles that are very successful when we deal with media are also very useful when we deal with our families" and other parties or gatherings, he said. However there are additional dimensions - such as space limits and anonymity - that we must take into account when we are dealing with the internet and social media.

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One critical challenge in the world of social media is determining when to engage in a discussion and when to avoid it, Bermudez explained.

He noted that Ivereigh's guidelines for dialogue assume "a desire of some kind to engage in a conversation, even if the starting point is aggressive."

But online, people "who are usually isolated in their hatred of the Catholic Church" become "like packs" of wolves, acting as internet "trolls" who pick fights and upset people with insulting comments.

Sometimes, he suggested, these internet trolls should be engaged, as a means to address the wider audience that is reading the posts. But many times, they should simply be ignored.

"Without that basic minimum interest, any discussion is just a waste of time" and should be avoided, he said.

Bermudez urged Catholics not to be intimated by trolls who seem to dominate social media discussions.

In reality, he said, they do not dominate, but appear to do so because they are very intense. Fortunately, there are ways of getting past their distractions, and most people following an online debate can see right through them.

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Encouraging the faithful to apply Ivereigh's principles of charity and evangelization, Bermudez also offered other tips, such as using pictures as resources on Facebook or Twitter.

"Remember that we have a very iconic faith," he said.

He also emphasized the importance of understanding the limits of the media forms that you are using. Twitter users, for example, must recognize that they only have 140 characters to make their point and will not be able to delve into deep philosophical explanations.

Still, Bermudez said, these forms of media can work if we take care in shaping our message, use links and make every word count.

"Brevity requires thinking," he stressed.

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