Creation of relations is key to communication, says Vatican insider

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Several years ago, when Vatican staff approached Pope Benedict XVI about using Twitter, he didn't give a hoot about the social media platform.

Will this help people hear the Gospel, he asked. The staff responded in the affirmative -- yes, it will bring the Word of Christ to a greater number of people -- so the Holy Father told them, "go for it, and I will stand by you."

When the Pontifical Council for Social Communications launched @Pontifex in 2012, it opened a new door to spreading the Good News of Christ, with approximately 20 million followers of accounts in five languages. Msgr. Paul Tighe, who displayed the iPad from which Benedict sent his first tweet, said it's just one way in which the Church has brought the Gospel to "the ends of the earth."

Msgr. Tighe, the secretary of the pontifical council, was the keynote speaker at the archdiocese's annual Communications and New Evangelization Conference May 5 at the Cardinal Rigali Center. The afternoon event drew attendees from parishes, schools and Church organizations and professional communicators.

How is the Church going to be present in a world that is changing? Communications is more about getting information from point A to point B, and it's not just about the technology, Msgr. Tighe said. It's also in how we relate to one another.

In his World Communications Day message last year, Pope Francis said that communications is a human achievement -- not a technological achievement -- because it's about building relationships with people. "Social media is bringing that back to the fore," Msgr. Tighe said. "It's important to learn the teaching of Jesus, the story of Jesus, but above all, we want to bring (others) into relationship with" Christ.

The patterns in which we communicate with one another are constantly changing, and therefore changing the way we form communities and individual relationships. That means the experience of the Church is changing, too, and "we need to be present to that," Msgr. Tighe said. "If the Church is not present in the digital, it's going to be missing from a lot of the significant parts of lives of many people."

There is an opportunity for members of the Church to be a witness to Christ amidst the negativity that can breed on social media. Pope Benedict said that social media and the Internet should become places where there is respect, people grow in dialogue and real friendships can emerge. Pope Francis also used the term "encounter" in describing how we connect with others on a deeper level.

"How can we have a place where people don't just bounce off each other at the superficial level," said Msgr. Tighe, "but to get to know each other?"

Pope Benedict put it this way: "If we're partaking well ... if we're lifting the tone and the value of social media, then we will give the Internet a soul."

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