Over forty years ago, in May 1967, the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, instituted the first World Communications Day as a way of promoting the role of the media in the Catholic Church. Paul VI is on record as saying that the Church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize the powerful social means of communication to spread the Gospel. His successors, John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, who inherited a Church that is facing an increasingly more electronically-complex and complicated world, have continued the laudable tradition of sending each year, in the month of May, a message, challenging Catholic media men and women to take advantage of the ever rapid means of social communications at their disposal to spread Christ’s message of hope to an increasingly secular world.
He therefore urges all priests to master and use “the world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity” to preach the Word of God, keeping constantly in mind Saint Paul’s injunction that woe betide whoever does not preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16) “The increased availability of the new technologies,” the Holy Father tells them, places priests “at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances,” thus compelling priests “to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.” 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.”
How is the Cameroonian priest faring?
When I read the Holy Father’s message, I wondered how many of our Cameroonian priests can respond positively to the Holy Father’s challenge. My skepticism intensified after a recent seminar I attended on the training of Catholic reporters organized by the Communications Department of the Diocese of Buea. The purpose of the said seminar was to acquaint media practitioners – diocesan priests, religious and laity of the print and audiovisual media alike -- on what is expected of a Catholic media man or woman. It came at a providential moment when the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda is preparing for the opening of its first radio station, Radio Evangeliium, hopefully over the next few months.
When my turn came to speak, I began by asking the seven or so priests representing the communications department of their various dioceses, if they knew what the World Communications Day was all about. I drew a blank. None of them had heard of it, neither did they know that the Holy Father had dedicated the 2010 World Communications Day exclusively to them.
Do our priests read?
The question then is how can priests selected to help in the communications ministry of the Church be so totally ignorant of such an important communication message from the Holy Father? The reason, I believe -- and I stand to be corrected on this -- is that many of our priests hardly read Catholic publications. The Cameroon Panorama from Buea and L’Effort camerounais from Douala, the only two Church publications that cover the national territory, always carry the Pope’s message on World Communication Day. The fact that the priests in question had no idea of the existence of such a papal message addressed to them can only mean that they, like some of their confreres, do not take the pains to read Catholic papers.
We have had cases, concerning L’Effort camerounais, where priests of certain parishes in our Archdiocese refuse to announce the arrival of the paper in their parishes; and what is even criminal, in my opinion, is that some of them do not even bother to even open the package containing the paper. When we go to collect the sales, we realize that the previous package is still lying at one corner of the parish priest’s office, unopened. When you ask why, some of them tell you that such publications are just a waste of their time. Not only do they not read the paper themselves, but, sadly enough, they deprive their parishioners of their God-given right to news and information about their Church and the society at large from a Christian perspective.
As we urge our priests to listen to the Holy Father and embrace the modern means of social communications for the spread of the Gospel, we plead with them to start by reading our local Church publications. They should also urge their parishioners to buy and read such publications. It has been proven that the parishes in which the sale of Catholic publications is impressive are those parishes with progressive parish priests who do not only read the papers themselves, but also urge their parishioners to do likewise.
If priests do not read the local Catholic publications that are readily available to them at cheap prices, I wonder how they can ever embrace the world of the digital media, access to which requires such tools as computers, connection to the internet, etc, that do not come cheap.
Fathers, our two national Catholic publications -- L’Effort camerounais and Cameroon Panorama -- are at your service. Read them and be informed of what’s going on in your Church and in the world at large. It is doubtful that a priest, who fails to read the local press, can be said to be a priest who is open to learning and continual formation. And how can you preach the Gospel if all you rely on is knowledge inherited from your seminary studies several years ago? I am just wondering aloud