Shout the Good News from the Rooftops!
Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel (the good news!) from the rooftops. These are, however, becoming ever-more crowded.
The Catholic Church is one of the largest single religious denominations in South Africa, at about 7% of the population. Yet this statistical strength is not reflected in its standing and influence in society.
This may be ascribed to the marginal exposure of the Catholic Church in the media. Too few Catholic voices are heard in the mainstream media — traditional or digital — to articulate the message and concerns of the local Church, never mind to make known the disproportionate contribution by Catholic initiatives to our society.
With isolated exceptions, such as the excellent statements issued by the Justice & Peace Commission and Bishop Abel Gabuza, and some bishops who are active on social media, these voices belong to Catholic individuals and institutes.
A World Hostile to the Christian View
While it is true that the secular media tend to underestimate — both by design and through ignorance — the position of the Catholic Church in our society, and sometimes even treat the Church with hostility, much of the blame for that resides with the Church itself.
The public presence of the Catholic Church, in particular its leadership, stands in stark contrast to the numerically much smaller Anglican Church, which employs skilled media professionals who manage to get its perspective into the media. Crucially, such a media strategy must include the concerted promotion of Catholic media.
By contrast, after the demise of apartheid, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference progressively downgraded the importance of social communications, allocating inadequate resources to what ought to be at the very centre of the local Church’s evangelisation efforts.
There is an overdue need to change that. It is therefore good that the bishops in their mid-year plenary next week have given some time to a session on the media. It must be hoped that this will provide a spark to re-energise the Church’s social communications efforts.
Media Strategy – Not Just For the Secular World
And from that, a plan of action must emerge. It is patently obvious, and has been so for more than a generation, that the bishops need a coherent media strategy which can be implemented.
This will require resources and the active engagement of every bishop and every SACBC department.
Crucially, such a media strategy must include the concerted promotion of Catholic media.
It should be the mission of every bishop, of every priest, of every parish pastoral council, to get as many Catholics as possible to read The Southern Cross and listen to Radio Veritas, because Catholic media is not only a method of formation but also a means of building community.
At a time when the local Church is so deeply divided along racial lines, The Southern Cross and Radio Veritas are among the few inclusive Catholic meeting places. All that represents the Catholic Church as a community must be rigorously supported.
It should be the instruction of every bishop that every parish with a potential readership provides access to The Southern Cross and promotes it, including parishes run by personal prelatures and other non-diocesan bodies.
The Church Must Tell Its Story
The Catholic media — print, broadcast, digital — is where the Church can tell its story to the faithful, who are then better equipped to disseminate that story to others.
The local Church needs to engage with experts in the various fields of media to convert its long-standing apathy to social communications into vibrant engagement.
In this, Church leaders must also enter the sometimes hostile fields of the secular media and be prepared to make mistakes — and have the humility to acknowledge and fix them.
Of course, we cannot expect all our bishops to have developed media skills. Their primary competence resides in the domains of spiritual guidance, pastoral care and diocesan administration.
For that reason, the SACBC and bishops in larger dioceses should engage the expertise of media specialists who know how to communicate the Church’s message.
Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel from the rooftops. These are, however, becoming ever-more crowded.
The local Church must find ways of making itself heard above the noise, to offer truth amid the din of “alternative facts” and propaganda, to be a voice of hope in an increasingly hopeless world, to advocate for social justice and the sanctity of life, to bring Christ to a society which might otherwise not meet him.
The Catholic Church in South Africa has plenty to say. Let it be heard!
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