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“To launch new processes by bearing witness, guided by the Holy Spirit, to another way of being church and by designing a new ways of communicating”

The Church is/was already a “net – a network”, before the advent of the “internet”. The challenge today “is to be fully present” where people live and to build real relationships. The digital world is part of this context where we live and meet. Communicating faith, he stressed, is never simply transmitting information. It is an act of friendship that moves from “I” to “we”, a link through which we experience and deepen our belonging to the network of the Church. The bonds of communion woven form a family and we are invited to move “from social media communities to human community”, he said.

Shared by Fr. Joe Healey MM https://www.vaticannews.va/en/africa/news/2024-02/100-young-africans-train-to-be-faith-influencers.html

Over 100 young Africans train to be faith influencers

“Providing young Africans with the tools and knowledge necessary to effectively use digital platforms to spread the faith and the word of God” is the objective of a six-month online training course which will bring together more than 100 young people from 52 African countries. Seven course modules have been organized by the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network, in partnership with several institutions, including the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication.

By Stanislas Kambashi, SJ – Vatican City.

Africa is a continent in full transformation, notably due to the growth of its population and the sharp increase in the number of Catholics, the majority of whom are young people. In order to become actors in this transformation of their society, these young people need solid training, covering all areas. Regarding faith, young people can be “missionary-influencers” on social media’s digital platforms. This is according to Father Stan Chu Ilo, initiator of a 6-month online training course for young African influencers. This first semester of training, running from February to August 2024, brings together 102 candidates, who will follow lessons from several instructors divided into seven modules. After the training, participants will be awarded certificates.

Laying the foundations for successful learning

During the inaugural session which took place on Friday, 9 February 2024, the moderator, Sister Josephine Bether Bakhita, emphasized that the webinar was intended to lay the foundation for a successful learning experience. “We are here to empower young people, to harness the power of digital technology to spread the message of faith, hope and love. Together, we can change the lives of countless people around the world,” explained the Kenyan nun, before giving the floor to two young moderators: Likibi de Bergerac of Congo-Brazzaville and Milliam Kayange of Malawi.

The seven training modules cover theories and the applications of African palaver and synodal processes, methods and skills for digital influence, principles and practices of Catholic social doctrine, transformational leadership in the service of others, spiritual maturity for professional and personal development, discipleship, the Church as the family of God, and practical implementation of the digital influencer project of faith.

Several instructors spoke during the inauguration day. The welcome address was given by Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, who expressed his joy at meeting the young people and their instructors. “We hope that through this shared journey you can discover the roots of your calling, spiritual and professional identity… and we hope that you can, with your skills and talents, find new ways to communicate the gift of faith that you have received” as Christians. Our dream, he told the young people, “Is to find, with you who were born in the digital age and are active in these communities”, new and creative ways to transform what we call the “digital continent”. The idea, according to Dr Ruffini, is not to colonize a new continent, but to launch new processes by bearing witness, guided by the Holy Spirit, to another way of being church and by designing a new ways of communicating, seeking to unite and not divide.

Be fully present on the internet

Referring to Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Francis, Dr Ruffini stressed that the Church had already begun this reflection on how to announce the Gospel to a modern-day world. The Church, he noted, was already a “net – a network”, before the advent of the “internet”. The challenge today, he said, “is to be fully present” where people live and to build real relationships. The digital world is part of this context where we live and meet. Communicating faith, he stressed, is never simply transmitting information. It is an act of friendship that moves from “I” to “we”, a link through which we experience and deepen our belonging to the network of the Church. The bonds of communion woven form a family and we are invited to move “from social media communities to human community”, he said.

First let yourself be influenced by Jesus and his Gospel

In this perspective, he told the young people, we have a lot to learn from each other. “Over the next six months you will have many opportunities for mutual learning and you will also benefit from the advice of experts who have acquired particular experience and expertise in the different areas of the social doctrine of the Church and of the digital communication. Then commenting on the theme of the program “Digital Faith Influencers”, Paolo Ruffini observed that each one is influenced and can influence. “Any influencer who wants to be a communicator of faith must first be influenced by Jesus and his Gospel”, in order to be authentic and to distinguish themselves from those who lead others to evil. Regarding the question of “who are the digital missionaries?”, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication cited Evangelii Gaudium emphasizing that every baptized person is called to be this missionary-disciple. The goal is to make our contribution by trying to transform the digital environment into a healthier and more human space.

Be good missionaries on social networks

Speaking in turn, the Secretary of the Dicastery for Communication, Monsignor Lucio Ruiz, underscored that “this course represents much more than a simple training program; it is an opportunity to form those who are called to speak to today’s culture about the tenderness of God.” It is not simply a question of knowing how to use the instruments, social networks, but of deeply understanding the culture in which we are immersed. “The instruments are useful, but the culture is lived; the instruments are for oneself, but the culture is shared; instruments are for specialists, but culture encompasses us all,” he said.

As missionaries, we are called to know Jesus and bring his word through digital media, “raising questions, provoking reflection and sowing seeds of hope in a world thirsty for truth and meaning”.

Msgr. Ruiz encouraged young people to have the courage and creativity to offer their time, their intelligence and their love to be for those who seek meaning in their existence and offer them a space to encounter Jesus. In our interactions on the networks, in our messages and our posts, we can carry the same invitation: “Come and see,” he suggested. He hoped that this program would be a path of personal growth for young people and pastoral growth for our communities.

An influencer is one who touches hearts, like Jesus

Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, also intervened, recalling what the Pope said to young Africans on 1 November 2022, during the virtual meeting “Building Bridges”. Building Bridges is not about listening to doctrines coming from other contexts but to construct one’s own opinion, based on the message of the Gospel, and to translate it into its social context.

Professor Peter Jones, of Loyola University in the United States, one of those who set up the virtual initiative “Building Bridges”, indicated that as an instructor during this program, he makes it his duty to help young people strengthen their voice, so that, by themselves, they are able to positively influence other young people, with the African spirit. 

Bishop Gerald Mamman Musa Mgr Gerarld Musa of the Diocese of Katsina, Nigeria, encouraged young people to take advantage of this training to “see, discern and act”, in order to know how to contextualize the Gospel on social networks. In his speech, Father Stan Chu Ilo emphasized that being an influencer means being able to touch the hearts of others, as Christ did. He invited young people to participate in online instructions and discussions. He also called on them to prepare for a trip to be organized in Uganda.

Also collaborating in the training course for the influencers are the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sacred Heart University (Uganda), Veritas University (Nigeria), Catholic University of Zambia and the Institute of Theology of the Society of Jesus (ITCJ) – Ivory Coast.

The young people will be instructed by several experts, including Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication; Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, Secretary of the same Dicastery, Father Stan Chu Ilo, Professor of Theology at DePaul University, in the United States of America; Sr José Ngalula, a Congolese Theologian and member of the International Theological Commission, Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Nora Nonterah, Professor at Kwame Nkrumah University (Ghana), Peter Jones, a Professor from Loyola University, Chicago (USA), Sister Leonida Katunge, the Director of PACTPAN and program coordinator; as well as several professors and specialists from different fields.

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