The new evangelization requires that we are attentive to the ‘newness' both of the cultural context in which we are called to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ and of the methods we should employ. New Media are relevant to both these tasks: they are changing radically the culture in which we live and they offer us new ways of sharing the Gospel message.
We are living through a moment of profound change in communications. The changes at the technical level are easily observed but the changes in the culture of communications are even more significant. The new technologies have not merely changed our means of communication but have transformed communication itself. The new technologies and media are creating a new cultural infrastructure which is already altering the landscape or environment of communications. This new culture is changing the lives of people and their ways of communicating. We cannot simply do what we have always done, albeit with new technologies. Now, more than ever, we need that ‘boldness and wisdom' of which Pope Paul VI spoke in Evangelii Nuntiandi.
We must recognize that the digital arena is a reality in the lives of many people today, this is most obvious in the Western world but it is also increasingly the case among the young and educated in the developing world. We must not think of it as a ‘virtual' space which is somehow less important than the ‘real' world. If the Church is not present in this space, if the Good News is not also proclaimed digitally, then we risk abandoning the many people for whom this is where they live: this is the forum in which they get their news and information, form and express their opinions, engage in debate and dialogue and seek answers to their questions. The Church has established a presence in the digital space but the further challenge is to achieve the types of transformation in our communication style that will make our digital presence effective.
We must attend particularly to the question of language. In speaking of language, I want to refer of our forms of discourse, our modes of communication and our vocabulary. It is a commonplace to observe that the style of discourse of the digital forum, especially of the so-called Web 2.0, is conversational, interactive and participative. As a Church, we are more used to preaching, to teaching and to issuing statements. These are important activities but the most effective forms of digital discourse are those that engage people personally, that seek to respond to their specific questions and that are open to dialogue.
Within the Church, we are accustomed to the use of texts as the normal mode of communication. I am not convinced that texts will speak to a younger audience that is fluent in a different language; a language rooted in the convergence of the written word, sound and images. We need to rediscover the capacity of art, music and literature to express the mysteries of our faith and to touch minds and hearts. We need to learn to show how we celebrate our faith, how we seek to serve and how our lives are graced and blest. We must communicate in our witness; we must share in our personal relationships our reasons for the hope that is within us. The need to be less text dependent is made more urgent by the difficulties that emerge at the level of vocabulary. Much of our religious and ecclesial language is difficult even for believers. Many of our religious icons and symbols need to be explained for our contemporaries, especially for the young generations who have not received religious education either in their families or in school. We can no longer presume that the majority of people, even in countries with a long Christian heritage, are familiar with our most basic beliefs. We cannot abandon or dilute our faith, but we must find new ways to express it.
Another feature of the new media landscape that can pose a particular challenge to the Church's communication efforts is that it is open, free and peer-to-peer – it does not automatically recognize or privilege the contributions of established authorities or institutions. In this environment, authority has to be earned, it is not an entitlement. This means that Church leaders, in common with other established political and societal leaders, are required to find new forms of framing their communications so that their contributions to this forum receive adequate and appropriate attention. We are learning to move beyond the paradigm of the pulpit and the congregation which listens out of respect for our position. We are now obliged to express ourselves in ways that engage and convince others who in turn will share our ideas with their friends, followers and dialogue partners. In this context, the role of the laity becomes ever more central. We need to harness the ‘voices' of the many Catholics who are present in blogs, social networks and other digital forums so that they can evangelize, share the insights of the Gospel, present the Church's teaching and respond to the questions of others. We need to reflect on how we can best provide them with the formation and the information that will enable them to be credible and convincing advocates for, and witness to, the Good news of the Gospel.