Africa Bishops Propose Formation of “digital missionaries” to Boost Church Communications

Members of the Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS), an initiative of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), are proposing formation that targets “digital missionaries” in academic institutions to boost communications on the continent.

Speaking at the CEPACS November 18-21 Golden Jubilee celebrations that were held in Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Lagos, Bishop Emannuel Adetoyese Badejo who heads the entity that brings together Catholic Bishops at the helm of communication in the various conferences in Africa and its Islands underscored the need to revitalize the entity by bringing on board young Catholics on the continent who are living as “digital missionaries”.

The Bishop of Nigeria’s Oyo Diocese expressed enthusiasm for the new opportunities that exist for CEPACS, including, “building a new alliance with the young people to evangelize contemporary digital media space for creating communion and community.”

In his Monday, November 20 presentation on the Golden Jubilee theme, “CEPACS at 50: History, Goals, Programs, Challenges and Opportunities in the Light of the Synod”, Bishop Badejo made reference to the Synod on Synodality assembly’s call for the formation of “digital missionaries.”

The assembly’s synthesis report provides guidelines for engagement with the digital space, which “can surely boost the building of a more just and fraternal world.”

On digital missionaries, the synthesis report says, “We cannot evangelize digital culture without first understanding it. Young people, and among them, seminarians, young priests, and young consecrated men and women, who often have profound and direct experience of it, are best suited to carry out the Church’s mission in the digital environment, as well as to accompany the rest of the community, including pastors, in becoming more familiar with its dynamics.”

In his presentation, the President of CEPACS also proposed the reconnection of academic institutions of communication with the apostolate of CEPACS, as well as “providing opportunity and resources for the formation and networking of pastoral agents (even digital missionaries) in Communication.”

Established by SECAM in 1973, CEPACS has a membership of the eight Catholic Bishops at the helm of the Commission of Social Communications in the eight regional conferences of SECAM, and their President.

The entity functions mainly through the assistance of media experts and regional coordinators, who oversee Commissions of Social Communications in their respective regional associations of Catholic Bishops in Africa and its Islands.

The eight regional associations of SECAM include the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACEAC), the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa Region (ACERAC), and the Regional Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA/CERAO).

Other regional associations are the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt (AHCE), the Regional Episcopal Conferences of North Africa (CERNA), Madagascar and Episcopal Conferences of Indian Ocean (CEDOI), and the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).

CEPACS has distinguished itself in various ways, including coordination of the various regional conferences of SECAM, broadcasting, screening for scholarships, as well as training of Catholic communicators.

One of the stronger periods of CEPACS was when it featured prominently in the First Synod of Bishops for Africa (10 April – 8 May 1994), providing communications and media support for the Bishops before, during and after that historic synod.

CEPACS has also signed an agreement with APO Group, a leading pan African communications consultancy and press release distribution service.

APO Group has provided training for media professionals from Africa and given massive publicity to news from all over Africa, including SECAM statements.

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All the achievements notwithstanding, CEPACS still faces obstacles as it seeks to achieve its mandate on the world’s second-largest and second most populous continent.

In his presentation, Bishop Badejo highlighted the lack of funds, lack of capacity to serve the French and Portuguese speaking segments of SECAM, as well as the dichotomy between CEPACS and the Catholic Media Professional Organizations as some of the challenges that CEPACS faces today.

“After 50 years CEPACS must need an overhaul due to some challenges over the years,” the Nigerian Catholic Bishop said, adding that the entity he oversees has also lost its linkage with the program of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications.

Bishop Badejo who was appointed member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication in December 2021 also proposed the formation of alliances with other communications entities, as well as the alignment of the work of CEPACS with the key themes of the Synod on Synodality namely Communion, Participation and Mission as some of the strategies to attain the objectives of the Catholic Bishops’ entity.

“The celebration of this Golden Jubilee which has made this assembly session possible, opens a fresh window from which to confront these challenges and relaunch CEPACS possibly by… redefining the role of CEPACS as a continental Committee and defining its relationship with the regional and national episcopal conferences for the future,” Bishop Badejo said.

The President of CEPACS also underlined the need to rekindle the interest and commitment of Africa’s Catholic Bishops in the activities of the social communications committee.

He proposed that members of SECAM, who include all Catholic Bishops in Africa and its Islands, to manage alliances and partnerships that he said could enhance the communication project of the Church in Africa.

Bishop Badejo highlighted ACI Africa, EWTN, Vatican Radio, Lumen Christi Satellite Television Nigeria, and the APO Group as some of the entities that CEPACS could consider collaborating with, saying, “Each of these dispose of formation programs and opportunities that can boost the voice and profile of the Church in Africa.”