A national symposium of Catholic communicators set out to explore pathways in new media to build unity in Malawi and to connect people to the faith in the small southern African nation.

Held under the patronage of the Malawian bishops' communication department, the communications secretaries from the nation's eight dioceses met with Catholic journalists in a media symposium at Msamba Catholic Center in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, Jan 12- 15.

According to Prince Henderson, communication officer of the bishops conference, the workshop objective was to plot a path in enabling the Church "to embrace new forms of communication for evangelism."

"The workshop stressed increasing the visibility of Catholic communicators and to enhance coordination of Catholic diocesan secretaries and lay Catholic journalists, among others," Henderson told CNA Jan 20.

In a telecast message, Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga encouraged the participants to promote the new evangelization. He urged them to maintain unity and collaboration among Catholic journalists, while promoting vigorously the Church and embracing digital communications.

Fr. Andrew Kaufa, secretary of the bishops' social communications and organizer of the conference, solicited the members to "deliberate on how to help the Church encourage youths to embrace new forms of evangelization."

Fr. Kaufa lauded the efforts of the communicators in the African region and urged the members to find ways to make themselves visible in regional and international meetings.

Opening the inaugural address, Fr. Emmanuel Chimombo, acting secretary general for the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, emphasized to the participants that "good communication could be a recipe for bringing people of diverse backgrounds together and growing unity."

"Good communication helps us grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately grow in unity," Fr. Chimombo said. "Media can help us greatly in this, especially now when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances."

Analyzing the the pros and cons, Fr. Chimombo acknowledged that social media is a speedy and cheap way of exchanging information and sharing ideas, such that they are making the world a global village.

However, Fr. Chimombo also advised the participants to be vigilant regarding the disadvantages, saying, "Media may be used to disseminate inauthentic information, and ideas whose effects may be toxic to the Gospel and other values, such as truth telling."

Lamenting the negative publicity which can "distort truth," Fr. Chimombo invited journalists to be catalysts and to proactively "act as missionary disciples who can transform the world." He suggested countering it with positive news for promoting unity in faith in the communities.

The diocesan communication secretaries sharing their vision for strengthening and mobilizing Catholic communications, underlining the need for partnership and networking among media in the region.

The workshop examined the challenges facing Catholic media in the region, including paucity of financial and material resources and a lack of trained personnel.

Fr Chrisantus Ndaga, coordinator of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, commended the positive effort and extensive role played by the media during the organization's plenary meeting held in 2014.

Fr. Ndaga pointing out that bishops, priests and religious are among the most illiterate in information communication technology in the region. He recommended the "need to embrace ICT" and called its usage "a vital key to evangelisation."

Fr. Ndaga also noted that communication is needed to take the center stage in the work of the digital age so that the Church could move at the same pace as the world, saying it was the responsibility of every member of the Church to defend her teachings and values.

Malawi is a small nation in southern Africa, bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Its 16.4 million people live on an adjusted per capita GDP of less than $860 annually, and over a third of GDP comes from agriculture. Some 80 percent of the population are Christian (20 percent Catholic), and around 15 percent are Muslim.