Year of Youth 2018

Finding the Wi-Fi - By Beth Doherty (An excerpt from the eBook "Word Made Flesh and “Shared” Among Us)

Last edited 3rd May 2013

Finding the Wi-Fi - By Beth Doherty (An excerpt from the eBook

Finding the Wi-Fi
By Beth Doherty

Beth Doherty is Communications Director for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Beth has also taught English as a second language in South Western Sydney; volunteered in South America; and has worked as an editor, and freelance writer. A journalist, teacher, photographer and musician, Beth is passionate about using these gifts to share a message of justice, peace and love.

When I travelled to Italy in 2010 for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, I was still reasonably new to the world of Catholic media and had not yet worked out the best way to approach the constant demand for information or the need for speed.

In Rome, I remember waiting on corners with a coffee in hand trying to find Australians for that ‘local angle’ to the story, then, well into the evening I would have to hunt down ‘Wi-Fi hotspots’ to upload photos and blogs, often filing articles at 10 o’clock at night.

In many ways, the canonisation of Australia’s first saint was a story that told itself, but the media were always looking for a new angle: a miracle cure; a lock of her hair; a relic; a medal; an anecdote.

During the canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square, there was a special buzz in the air. I had spent hours the night before seeking out good Wi-Fi, trying to get the best signal and the fastest connection. Yet, as the ceremony was about to begin, I became all too aware that I had spent more time seeking the digital signal which would allow quick upload of photos and far less time trying to find a connection with God.

A stressful, albeit interesting and privileged two weeks camecrashing down on me as I stood at the entrance to the Sala Stampa- the press gallery, a scaffold with metal stairs leading up to a world of journalists, furiously scribbling notes and snapping photos. I was overwhelmed by a sense of unworthiness. Who was I, a sinner, to be privileged to attend such an event which honoured the most holy of people? Six saints were to be canonised that day, and I was not fit to tie their sandals.

Better theological reasoning prevailed later, but I treasured the moment as a gift from God. Not because it was comfortable or even an accurate reading of the situation, but because it led to further reflection on connecting with God, in both the consolation and desolation that the spirit provides.

It also provided something of an analogy for our digital age: the need for us to be constantly seeking out that ‘Wi-Fi hotspot’ of God’s grace, God’s voice in prayer. That said, as seasoned pray-ers and mystics would know, the signal strength of God’s voice does not pop up on the corner of the screen letting us know how long our download is likely to take. There are no bars indicating how good our connection might be. The signal strength is sometimes weak, and at times the reception is bad. Sometimes there is too much traffic on the network. And perhaps sometimes, the effects of the perseverance with the search for God’s spirit are only discernible later, in retrospect.

Digital natives are called to be missionaries in this brave new world. Centuries ago, the early Christian missionaries left their homelands to share the Gospel. Often not knowing if they would ever return, they went out, full of zeal to spread the message of Christ.

Today, we are a new band of missionaries, ones who need to step out in faith, often not knowing what will come next. We do not know what the next social network to take the world by storm will be. Naturally, there is a level of anxiety too, because we do not know where all this will lead. We don’t know what affect a quickly composed tweet or an assembled meme will have on those who see it; it’s hard to predict what will go viral and what will remain in obscurity.

Pope Benedict XVI looked at these opportunities in a positive way in his Message for the 47th World Communications Day, writing:

“…The development of social networks calls forcommitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization, 2013).

For me, the gifts of social media have been like this. I neverimagined that something as simple as a free network like Facebook or Twitter could invite such a groundswell of engagement. When I created my Facebook profile in 2007 I never envisaged the way it could connect me with others. I never imagined that Skype could actually be used to speak one to one with a spiritual director over the other side of the world.

We created a Facebook and Twitter account for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and established a Media Blog, which has enabled us to reach out using a variety of modern means as well as create a clearer, more discernible account of the priorities of the Catholic Church in Australia; which are to reach out, and love one another in our God-given dignity.

In my role as Communications Director for the Bishops Conference, using social media has been a real gift. Despite its unlimited potential to distract me, paradoxically, technology has improved my prayer life. It has helped me to connect with the face of Christ, sometimes quite literally through apps that provide scriptural reflections, biblical content, music and images. I saw how useful aniPad could be and was inspired to finally get one after I saw one of our Australian Bishops using his iPad to pray the Divine Office. And when a youth minister posted on Facebook the following modern day rewrite of St Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer, I had to stop and reflect on what she had written:
“Christ has no online presence but yours
No blog, no Facebook but yours
Yours are the tweets by which love touches the online world
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.”
This post, which I felt compelled to share, was a pertinent summary of how Christians can use social media for the greater glory of God. It was a short message that could be used to touchthe hearts of people and energise Christians to use social media well.

In recent months, to coincide with the release of his Message for the 47th World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Pontifical Council for Social Communications created “The Pope App” which can be downloaded for free to iPhone and iPad. In his final months as Pope, he even joined Twitter under the handle @Pontifex, which attracted millions of followers in a matter of weeks. Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, Pope Francis has embraced the technology too, tweeting for the first time just three days after his papal election.

It is my hope that via whatever means, even if it is just one line on a social media channel, that our Church continues to spread the Gospel and reach out in this new and brave world. The Gospel imperative is to ‘Go out to all the world and tell the Good News’ (Mk 16:15); this is a call to be missionaries in the true sense of the word and use every means available, be they carrier pigeons or Twitter.

Let us truly discern and open our hearts and minds to thepossibilities given to us by social media to touch the hearts of others, even when we cannot always see them. Indeed, we may find that in some small way, it is possible that through a message, an image, or a shared prayer we find ourselves able to pour oil on the wounds of those who have been broken and show them the balm of mercy that is the true face of Christ.

This article was part of an ebook released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Communications Office you can access the e book here:

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