Published on February 7, 2011
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A time for transition
The Catholic Church has long been criticised for being old-fashioned, out of date and unappealing to younger generations, with its set of dogmas and obsolete rituals that, in almost two millennia, have never changed.
If Pope John Paul II was perceived by many as an enlightening model of openness towards different religions and cultures, Catholics and observers of Vatican affairs have so far looked at the new Pope Benedict XVI with more scepticism and detachment.
Shortly after his election, Pope Benedict XVI, was labelled as being less connected to the people and their everyday concerns and more inclined to pursue his theological and philosophical studies, as the Swiss Catholic priest and theologian Hans Küng underlined in his article published on the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last April.
The comparison to John Paul II, the growing worries over declining number of followers of the Catholic Church in the industrialised countries, the decreasing number of young men willing to devote their life to priesthood, together with the recent and more serious paedophilia-related scandals, may be some of the reasons leading the Vatican state to embrace new media as its communication channel.
The Church caught in the web
In the second decade of the new millennium, the Vatican finally landed in the era of new media, and acknowledged the potentially endless opportunities offered by social networks and content sharing sites. In his letter for the 45th World Communications Day, the Pope praised the role of new media in facilitating human relationships and abolishing borders:” The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks”.
Beyond the purely humanistic benefits the Internet can bring to mankind, the Vatican may have found a new, powerful tool to carry out a modern “crusade”, or evangelization mission, as the Catholic creed can now reach people all over the world without missionaries being sent to remote countries.
Benedict XVI himself praised the far reaching possibilities to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church around the world in his message for the 44th World Communications Day, entitled The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word. In the speech, released on the Holy See website, the Pope wrote: “Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis”.
A new format for an old message
Last week a further application was launched by iTunes aimed at bringing believers closer to their spirituality: customers can purchase Confession: a Roman Catholic App to “prayerfully prepare for and participate in the Rite of Penance” and regain familiarity with this sacrament after a period of non-participation. The product received formal approval from Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, taking the Catholic Church deeper into cyberspace.
Although all of these initiatives represent an important step towards the modernisation of the Catholic Church, and a clever marketing strategy to renew its image in a time of increasing atheism and spiritual crisis, the risk such a tactical move can face is leaving the real issues causing the belief-crisis of modern society unaddressed.
Even if the most modern and glamorous tools are used, the views of the Church on topics like gay rights, the use of contraception, abortion, euthanasia and other social and scientific themes, are the real reason why increasingly more people turn away from this faith, as they perceive it as detached from reality.
Now that the means to reach the biggest portion of the population are available to the Pope, believers and critics can hope that the Vatican will come to terms with their real challenge- the need to open up to dialogue and confrontation on matters considered to be taboos.
Tags: the vatican, new media, journalism, social networks, pope benedict xvi, pope john paul ii, 45th world communications day, global village,
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