Speaking with the heart: Pastoral Insights for National Communications Offices in the Digital Era

The World Communications Day was established by Blessed Paul VI, 1967 with the purpose to encourage us to reflect every year, on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of Social Communication offer the Church to communicate the Gospel message. Bringing to our days, the message offers us opportunities to reflect on legacy media (the modern means of communication: press, radio, television and cinema) versus digital media.

1. At the Crossroads of Communication Phenomenon
The issue “Virtual or Real: an anthropological question?” takes us to delve into the technological achievements of the Net and of bioelectronics and how they are producing social and economic changes in the whole world. Pope Francis brings us into awareness that “Technology is influencing the evolution of culture by means of changes that also involve the human being’s conception of him/ herself”. … “Ever since the internet first became available, the Church has always sought to promote its use in the service of the encounter between persons, and of solidarity among all”.
On that note, we have to reflect on the foundation and importance of our being-in relation:
 We need to recognize how social networks, on the one hand, help us to better connect, rediscover, and assist one another,
 but on the other, lend themselves to the manipulation of personal data, aimed at obtaining political or economic advantages, without due respect for the person and his or her rights. Statistics show that among young people one in four is involved in episodes of cyberbullying.

Bullying is a persistent and deliberate act of cruelty towards another person over a period of time like name calling or nicknaming, laughing maliciously and using sarcasm with the intention to be hurtful, teasing, isolating and excluding or being unfriendly, bullying on social media through sending offensive messages and photos, racist comments: making fun of someone because of their race, tribe, culture or religion, etc. (Cf. Pope Francis, 53rd World Communication Day Message, “We are members one of another” (Eph 4,25). From social network communities to the human community, 2019). We can not ignore this reality since the generation is often times the target and in our Continent are the majority and it poses a pastoral concern.

The urgency to inhabit with courage the Digital Continent as Christian Communicators can be illustrated by the following example:
Statistics show that there were 17.86 million internet users in Kenya at the start of 2023, when internet penetration stood at 32.7 percent. Kenya was a home to 10.55 million social media users in January 2023, equating 19.3 percent of the total population. A total of 63.94 million cellular mobile connection were active in Kenya in early 2023, with this figure equivalent to 117.2 percent of the total population .
The use of various digital platforms was found as follows:

After WhatsApp, we can see how Facebook is the digital platform that offers us better opportunity to announce the Gospel.

2. Speaking with the Heart: “the Truth in Love” (Ef 4: 15)

The above title is the theme of the current year’s World Communications Day. The message highlights that once we have practiced listening, which demands waiting and patience, as well as foregoing the assertion of our point of view in a prejudicial way, we can enter into the dynamic of dialogue and sharing, which is precisely that of communicating in a cordial way. After listening to the other with a pure heart, we will also be able to speak following the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15).

We are to be bold in giving the reasons of our believing and not to be afraid of proclaiming the truth, even if it is at times uncomfortable and risk. “The Christian’s programme” — as Benedict XVI wrote — “is ‘a heart which sees’”.
A heart that reveals the truth of our being with its beat should be listened to. This leads that those who listen to be attuned to the other so that they can hear within their heart also the heartbeat of the other. This nurture experience of looking at one another with compassion, welcoming our mutual frailties with respect rather than judging by hearsay and sowing discord and division. Hence, our vocation as communicators is above all relational and only can be sustained by a spirituality.

3. Spirituality of a Communicator
The springboard of the spirituality of a communicator must have a biblical perspective. The two biblical icons that can help us to understand our vocation in the Church and how we are called give the charity of the Truth by creating Christian content and inhabiting the media environment of today as witness of God’s unfailing love and compassion are: Lk 6:44-45 (the good out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks) and Lk 10: 25-37 (the parable of the good Samaritan). Jesus remind us that every tree is known by its fruit (cf. Lk 6:44):
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (v. 45). This is why, in order to communicate truth with charity, it is necessary to purify one’s heart.

Blessed James Alberione (founder of the Pauline Family) insisted often times that “the prayer for the apostolate enlightens the apostle so that he may know what to say and how to say it. Moreover, it pushes him and gives him zeal as well as holy initiatives for the apostolate. The less the human side appears in our writings and words so as to make room for God and the Church, so much more effective and listened to will the apostle be”. The Mass media of communication requires from us today to live the actuality and contemporary trends creating synergies among the different sectors (Biblical Apostolate, Education, Justice and Peace, Evangelisation, Doctrine, Ecumenism, etc. within the structure of Church as to carry on the organic Pastoral Plan and render the Pastoral objectives operational. The Department of communication has to be the catalyst of the other departments within the Conference or Diocese.

Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because the power of the Word of God itself touches the hearts, prior to our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means.
“In his recent message for the 57th World Communications day, Pope Francis invites us to purify our hearts in order to communicate truth with charity, to focus on “speaking with the heart”, radically challenging the inclination of our generation “towards indifference and indignation, at times even on the basis of disinformation which falsifies and exploits the truth” . If we are truly capable of looking and seeing reality and others with the eyes of the heart, if we are capable of listening with the ears of the heart and above all if we exercise ourselves to speak with the heart, we will also be capable of empathy, capable of true compassion” .
How is the impact of our experience of faith in the digital world?

4. Pastoral Insights for National Communications Offices in the Digital Era

The Vatican has released recommendations for how to better “love your neighbour” on social media through the document: “Toward Full Presence: A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media”.
The document invites all Catholics to make an “examination of conscience” on the use of social media, on how they allow it to influence them as well as, about the opportunities it provides them to share the Gospel, build community and care for others. The topics covered in the document include:
 information overload
 constant scrolling,
 not giving others one’s full attention,
 being an“influencer,” witnessing to Christ,
 “digital detox,”
 the need for silence, intentional listening, and building community in a fragmented world.

The document also warns about the challenges posed by the digital culture such as:
 “One significant cognitive challenge of digital culture is the loss of our ability to think deeply and purposefully,”
 “We scan the surface and remain in the shallows, instead of deeply pondering realities.”
 Social media’s constant demand for people’s attention “is similar to the process through which any temptation enters into the human heart and draws our attention away from the only word that is really meaningful and life-giving, the Word of God.”
 “Different websites, applications, and platforms are programmed to prey on our human desire for acknowledgment, and they are constantly fighting for people’s attention. Attention itself has become the most valuable asset and commodity”.
 “Along the ‘digital highways’ many people are hurt by division and hatred. We cannot ignore it. We cannot be just silent passersby.
 In order to humanize digital environments, we must not forget those who are ‘left behind.’ We can only see what is going on if we look from the perspective of the wounded man in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
 Christians should take care to be “reflective not reactive on social media” to ensure that the way one treats others online is in itself a witness.
 One question the text encourages Christians to reflect on is whether their social media posts are pursuing “followers” for themselves or for Christ.

From being an ‘influencer’ to a witness as authentic follower of Jesus
The document invites us to do a leap of faith whereby from mere influencers we become witnesses of our experience of faith in the demanding Digital Continent. On that note:
 “Every Christian should be aware of his or her potential influence, no matter how many followers he or she has.”
 “Our social media presence usually focuses on spreading information. Along these lines, presenting ideas, teachings, thoughts, spiritual reflections, and the like on social media needs to be faithful to the Christian tradition
 It urges people to remember that “there were no ‘likes’ at all and almost no ‘followers’ at the moment of the biggest manifestation of the glory of God! Every human measurement of ‘success’ is relativized by the logic of the Gospel.”
 Christian living is a vocation that consumes our very existence by offering ourselves, soul and body, to become a space for the communication of God’s love, a sign pointing toward the Son of God.
 It is in this sense that we better understand the words of the great John the Baptist, the first witness of Christ: ‘He must increase; I must decrease’ (Jn 3:30). Like the Forerunner, who urged his disciples to follow Christ, we too are not pursuing ‘followers’ for ourselves, but for Christ. We can spread the Gospel only by forging a communion that unites us in Christ. We do this by following Jesus’ example of interacting with others.”

5. National Pastoral Office of Communications

The Role of National Communication Office is to coordinate and animate the Dioceses and encourage them in the diverse projects to be accomplished in the Evangelising mission of the Church as a catalyst of the whole organic pastoral within the nation. The Pastoral Instruction Aetatis Novae emphasises the Church’s need to engage with the mass media and major events and issues of the times – an engagement that is informative, interpretative and critical. This document offers Guidelines for designing Pastoral Plans for Social Communications in a Diocese, Episcopal Conference. on the essence and aim of National Offices of Communications.

Through the media the Church fulfils its evangelising mission by conveying Gospel values to our society – through social communications the Church tries to be an influence for good in the way people think and behave, striving to build a world of greater justice, compassion and hope.
To be St Paul alive today! To create a content worth of being published as Catholic Content out of one’s experience of faith and to reach out to existential peripheries, thus promoting human dignity. The impact of artificial intelligence has to be always before our eyes. We are privileged because next year’s theme will be on Artificial Intelligence.
It is imperative a Partnership and Networking in Pastoral Initiatives!!!
Some Examples of Joint Pastoral Initiatives
This is a humble suggestion of some activities that can be organized as to give more life to the National Communications Offices.

1. Zoom meeting or Webinar to prepare a World Communications Day with Diocesan Communicators and parish communicators.

2. Webinar on awareness of World Day of Refugees and Migrants at the light of Kampala meeting (24 September 2023). As our IMBISA region has a high flux of migratory routes towards South Africa and its consequences of Xenophobia, we can not just ignore the challenges of migrations.
Cardinal Michael Czerny in a video message to the Communicators of Africa that met in Kampala in July 2023, he exhorted them in these words:
“Journalists have the responsibility to offer a new narrative, putting our migrant siblings, together with their families, at the center, linking their sufferings and aspirations to the causes of their migration – to the “why’s” behind their being forced to flee – so as to connect with solutions that would end or “heal” their displacement”.
“… It is important to listen to our siblings on the move since they should be protagonists of the solutions towards peace and development in their own countries. Let them express their aspirations”.
“…I invite you to understand and value the opportunities that migrants offer as a way to bring new life to local communities. Their presence is a providential opportunity to fulfil the evangelizing mission through witness and charity”.

…“A soft tongue will break a bone”, says the Book of Proverbs (25:15). “Today more than ever, speaking with the heart is essential to foster a culture of peace in places where there is war; to open paths that allow for dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage”.

3. Season of Creation and the challenge of Ecological Conversion from 1 September to 4 October.

4. Media Literacy in the Parishes and Schools (Cinema Divina)
5. To venture into joint project on communication – Partnerships that foster pastoral outreach to, and dialogue with, media professionals and practioners, with particular attention to their faith development and spiritual growth.

6. To promote media festivals: Competition among schools, bring media awareness in the parishes.

7. To organise and encourage the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God.

8. To plan workshops for Parish /diocesan Communications teams for formation and updating of Manuals on Communication produced by IMBISA and AMECEA namely:
– AMECEA/IMBISA, Basic Human Communication: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol. 1. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 1999.
– AMECEA/IMBISA, Communication Culture and Community: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol.2. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 2000.
– AMECEA/IMBISA, Communication in the Church and Society: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol. 3. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 2000.
9. To update the Facebook or Web page of the institution. Almost all the Episcopal Conferences have Facebook page. And this is good because Facebook is a fantastic way to reach our to your audience at different levels. By posting information, photos, videos and stories, the content you share can personalize your brand. Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms. It provides insight into its users interests, likes, dislikes, personal life and buying behavior.
But the burning issue is how update are they?


As I conclude this presentation, I trust that the efforts of IMBISA Communications Office to bring on board all Communicators of the Region to share in the synodal process by building more communion and sharing from the abundance of the heart the experience of faith as well as being Samaritan to each other by caring for each other’s wounds will bear abundant fruits. Aware of our responsibility in the Church as Communicators, experts in communion that build bridges and break down walls, working toward human dignity and social promotion of all because we believe that Jesus is the only answer to the existential questions of the human heart, we embrace the challenge to be ever onward to the peripheries to give the charity of the Truth.

May this workshop contribute to build and generate abundant life in our National Pastoral undertakings because we belong together as a Church and our vocation and mission is to synergise the experience of faith in the demanding field of communication and in the Digital Continent!
Thank you for your invitation.

Sr Olga Massango, FSP
Lumko Pastoral Center (Johannesburg), 29th August, 2023



Biographical Resources

1. AMECEA/IMBISA, Basic Human Communication: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol. 1. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 1999.
2. AMECEA/IMBISA, Communication Culture and Community: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol.2. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 2000.
3. AMECEA/IMBISA, Communication in the Church and Society: Communication for Pastoral Formation, Vol. 3. Nairobi: Communications/Daughters of St Paul (Paulines Publications Africa), 2000.

4. Renato Kizito Sesana, The Art of Journalism: Thirty Questions and Answers, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2002.

5. Bartholomew A. Kodi, The Art of Publishing a Newspaper, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2001.

6. Guiseppe Caramazza, The Art of Radio, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2001.

7. Philip G. Altbach, The Challenge of the Market, Privatization and Publishing in Africa, Oxford, United Kingdom: Bellagio Publishing Network, 1996.

8. Patrick Tor Alumuku, Community Radio for Development: The World and Africa, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2006.

9. Domitille Duplat, Freedom of the Press: Responsibility of the Media, Africa on the Way to Self-regulation, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2003.

10. Michael Mwangi, Law and Ethics of the Media, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2002.

11. Raymond Boisvert and Teresa Marcazzan, Publishing at the Service of Evangelization, Proceedings of the Seminar of the Catholic Publishers in Africa, Nairobi 12-24 February 1996, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1996.

12. Antonio Spadaro, Web 2.0, Relationships in the Internet Age, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2014.