Communication in the Church Today and in the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan
Lecture delivered on 20th May, 2009 at St. Mary Cathedral Ibadan
Most Reverend Emmanuel Ade Badejo
Coadjutor Bishop of Oyo Diocese
Your Grace, Most Reverend Felix Alaba Job, Archbishop of Ibadan, the Vicar General Very Reverend Father Peter Odetoyinbo, the Director of Communications, Fr. John Toyin Pinheiro, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Sisters, President, Executive and members of the Catholic Mass Media Professionals of Ibadan Archdiocese, distinguished media professionals, ladies and gentlemen, It is my pleasure to share these few thoughts with you on this occasion as part of the celebration of the 43rd World Day of Communications on the topic “Communication in the Universal Church and the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan: A General Overview”.
Let me begin these reflections with this hackneyed categorical statement: “The Church is communication”. It is very tempting for theologians to try to contest this statement but it is not a frivolous one. No less a person than the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, a great theologian and veteran Vatican representative lent his weight to this view in his lovely book “Models of the Church. Church communicators have often used the expression too, and I think, for good reason. Right on the façade of the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, established in the 16th century, are these two evocative words: “Euntes Docete” meaning: “Going, teach”. These words are actually from the original, The copyright belongs to Jesus. He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to fulfill all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28: 19-20) I have underlined the operative words. Additional proof of the validity of the Church being communication is available in numerous documents of the Church on communications and in the various messages of past World Day of Communication.
The summary implication of the words of Jesus, in my view is twofold, that communication in the Universal Church is all embracing and dynamic. Perhaps we could take these concepts one by one.
Church Communication is all-embracing
This aspect of Church communication derives from the key concept to “teach all nations”. For me, “all nations” mean all ages, time, groups, races. trends etc. Church communications has experienced a progressive development from the day when the disciples huddled together “in the room upstairs where they were staying“(Acts 1: 12-14) in fear after the ascension of Jesus. From that restricted existence it has blossomed today into a comprehensive adventure and undertaking which must touch, sustain and be animate every aspect of life. Not for nothing that the last Pastoral Instruction of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “Aetatis Novae”, published on February 2, 1992, recommended summarized and refocused all earlier documents and ascribed to Church communications a wide spectrum of responsibilities. Media, according to the document must be at the service of persons and cultures, must dialogue with the world, must serve human community and progress, serve ecclesial communion and foster a new evangelization. They must face current challenges of solidarity and integral development, policies and structures as well as ensure the right to information and communication. From the strictly pastoral point of view the instruction called for the defense of human cultures, promotion of the Church’s own means of communication, the formation of communicators and the pastoral care of all communicators. Finally, true to the old axiom “failing to plan is planning to fail” the instruction prescribes that annual planning for communications within nations, dioceses, parishes and even within various departments and organizations of Church life be taken seriously by all including the Bishop. It even presents guidelines and processes for designing a plan for pastoral communications which, it prescribes, must be accompanied by a realistic and realizable budget
A careful evaluation, even of this summary will surely show that very few aspects of social life has been left untouched by this document which has often been called the Magna Charta of Church communication. It would be wrong to think that the Church stopped speaking on communications since the said document was published. Although not of the same weight as the Pastoral Instruction, other important documents have been issued since 1992. These include “Ethics in Advertising” (February, 1997), Ethics in Communication” (June, 2000) “Ethics in Internet” and “The Church and Internet”, (February 2002). All these along with the messages of the annual World Day of Communications are intended to help the Church cover necessary grounds in helping the media, the practitioners of media and the audiences to relate adequately with the all important phenomenon.
Furthermore, an informed analysis of the all important Synod for African Bishops of 1994 which took place in Rome and the post Synodal document “Ecclesia in Africa” demonstrate that the African Church chose to adopt five pillars of African Catholicism or, if you like, a “five-point-agenda” to execute its evangelization mandate. They are Proclamation, Dialogue, Justice and Peace, Inculturation and Communication. Of all these five pillars, Communication stands out as the motor without which none of the others could be successfully carried out. I am proud to say that it is for this reason that while working at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria between 1996 and 2003,I joined others to restructure the secretariat’s activities such that a special directorate was created for Social Communications to enable it to animate, support and sustain all other Church activities.
Still more, for quite long before Aetatis Novae the Church had held on to an instrumentalist “use the media” approach to communications. That changed in a definitive way through “Aetatis Novae” The relationship between Church and media is now that of “engagement”, comprising of interaction, policy formation, training, spiritual support, sponsorship and collaboration. Only in this way can the Church and media become, permit the cliché, “partners” in progress. This is the reality of the Church’s position today even though many church communication experts, some of whom may be sitting here still hold tenaciously to the convenient instrumentalist view. Even already in 2002 part of a message that ensued from a communication meeting here in the Archdiocese of Ibadan on communication showed at least a theoretical awareness of the Church’s position. It read: “Families get most of their information from these media. They influence our attitudes and shape our values. In this revolution the Church cannot afford to be left out or left behind. Rather, the Church should be in the frontline in guiding, evangelizing and harnessing the energies and the possibilities of these new modes of communication” (Schineller Peter SJ, Rev. Fr., Ed.: The Church Teaches: Stand of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria on Issues of Faith and Life, p.25)
Church Communication is Dynamic
Under this dimension I would like to describe Communication in the Church today with one popular Nigerian coinage, “a kick and follow” affair. By this I do not mean to portray it as a rolling stone that gathers no moss. By it, I mean the Church has long realized the importance of “reading the sign of the times and conforming her communication principles and practice to the “language” of the times. It would be difficult to find a better proof to buttress this point than the theme chosen by the Pope for the 43rd World Day of Communication Message this year “New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship”. Anyone familiar with Church history will give credit to the Church for the enormous openness contained in that theme to emerging technologies and relationships around us. The Church has even gone a huge step further. Between the 9th and 13th March this year the Pontifical Council for Social Communications called together Bishops responsible for Communications in the various Episcopal Conferences all over the world for a Seminar on Communications. The theme of the Seminar was “New Perspectives for Church Communications”. I am honored to have represented Nigeria at that seminar for Bishops with no less a person than His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Okogie, member of the Council. I believe that some of you have read my report on that event but perhaps it is worth reporting in a substantial way here.
The Pontifical Council Seminar on New Technologies held in Rome between 9th and 13th March hosted over 70 Bishops from all over the world. Through inputs from professionals in the different fields of media, study sessions and small group deliberations the Bishops discussed what the Church’s attitude ought to be to the new technologies which drive the new phenomena of Social Interaction and Self-definition in which the youth especially are immersed in as New media Technologies. These include Facebook, Flixter, Blogs, My space, You Tube, etc. It is becoming increasingly clear that young people who were born in the internet age, whom we call natives of the internet and the new technologies, by virtue of that fact, have seemingly different parameters for communication and relationships from older people whom we call migrants into the New technologies and who have to learn to use those same technologies. This has huge implications for communication in the Church. If the Church and her agents of evangelization fail to connect with and appropriate the new media technologies and adequately relate to the natives of that sphere and space, the situation could become a case of an analogue church speaking to a digital flock. In such a scenario communication will hit a brick wall and break down. Consequently, the gospel and evangelization suffer.
The Rome seminar exposed Bishops in charge of Communications to different perspectives of the new media technologies phenomenon so that they can in turn along with their conferences study the phenomenon more closely. Bishops at the seminar also studied and deliberated on how to provide an update and re-expression of the Church’s teaching on Social Communications 17years after the Pastoral Instruction on Communications “Aetatis Novae”. The document is found today to be inadequate for guiding contemporary relations between Church and media. The Bishops therefore re-read the document, had series of discussions and presented the outcome of same to the Pontifical Council at a plenary session. The Council is expected to further study the recommendation and along with some experts and come out with a new document which will update Aetatis Novae. Some highlights of the Bishops recommendations are:
*That the new document be written in language that is accessible to the youth
*That the youth “Natives of the New Media Technologies” be co-opted in the writing of the document
*That Church leaders in modesty learn from the youth who are the custodians of the New Media
*That the document not be too voluminous
From this report we can see clearly that the Church is eager to “be right there where the action and the audience is and this is not only in the area of holding seminars. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI himself now communicates on YouTube, a fact that has generated some enthusiastic discussions for and against the move. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Wales a few years ago presented its communique on Youtube where it competed with the videos of Eminem, Icecube, the Temptations and other self-published superstars of all kinds of leanings. That is the world we live in today and the Church does not shy away from it so as not to be caught talking only to herself.
During the same seminar the Vatican came to present its own communication outfits and it was a confluence activity among all its media outlet, the press office, the Vatican Radio, Vatican Television Centre, Church Media Professionals and Intellectuals and the Vatican Internet Outfit represented by among others, youth who were helping to manage the new media within the system.
Very clearly this bird’s eye view of Church Communications challenges the Church all over the world. No need to be cowed anyway. It is amazing what can be achieved even where there are huge limitations and deficiencies. Permit me to use Oyo diocese as an example of what is possible in even the most challenging of circumstances. Oyo is a largely rural diocese as we all know with hardly any resident catholic media practitioner of note. As I speak however, apart from the usual Diocesan publication we run a Diocesan Communication Office which attends to the regular publicity of diocesan and relevant activities, an Internet Providing Facility, an Internet Communication Technology school which, though just beginning, has trained 28 of our youths for the labor market. Some of these have been employed by us and by others. An intensive ICT course by the school for the Priests and Religious comes up soon. We produce the Yoruba liturgical monthly “E duro Ninu Oro mi” and collaborate in producing the English edition “Abide in My Word”. We run a standing audiovisual outreach outfit (not about equipment but expertise and ideas) which has produced materials for the year of St Paul and is coming out in two weeks with another video CD on the same theme by the diocesan CWO) May I state that all this is being realized under the coordination of one person, the Communication Director who also coordinates the activities of the very few media practitioners that we have. It would be too cumbersome, more costly and quite inefficient to do otherwise. The diocesan communications program is focused on enhancing and promoting the five pillars of evangelization as laid down by the African Synod as I said before. This brings me to the reality and possibilities of Church Communications in our dear well endowed and well positioned Archdiocese of Ibadan
Church Communication on the Home Front.
The Archdiocese of Ibadan has for a long time occupied a position of privilege in the Catholic Church within Yorubaland for various reasons, political, social infrastructural and ecclesiastical. Many dioceses in Yorubaland are tied to the apron strings of Ibadan for some or all of these reasons. This imposes an extraordinary responsibility on the archdiocese. To some extent the Archdiocese has responded to the responsibilities imposed by that privilege. Right from the 1960s when The Independent (paper with a great history) was the only Catholic Newspaper which some of us knew to the present when the archdiocese can lay claim to numerous media outfits and outlets, we can thank God for his blessings. Tribute must also be paid to the work of the Catholic Media practitioners who though working in the secular media never reneged on their faith and commitment to the Church even in the course of their work. They elevated the Church, spreading the faith and greatly benefitting the society. Some of them are thankfully still with us retired maybe but not washed out. Today the Archdiocese of Ibadan can boast of so many initiatives in the media in the area of technical, print, audio, visual and information technology communications. Many priests, religious and lay people have been trained and placed to work within the archdiocese. Many highly talented people, trained and not so trained are giving their service in the field. More recently there has been an increased presence of the Church on radio and television, not least during the last Lenten Easter season. It is perhaps only in the area of film and cinema and outdoor communications that I think we are yet to fully wake up. However huge investments have been made in the area of communications and we have a lot to thank God for.
Having said all this, the truth is that there can be a big gulf between ample media presence and effective Church communication. Just like the art of ball juggling, effectively managing so much resources, talent and so many media outfits and outlets requires great tact and skill. In our multi-choice environment and age, having numerous media outlets in the same field is not necessarily a curse or a problem. Not even when they seem to be offering exactly the same services. In fact with good coordination and a humble disposition this can be turned into a blessing whereby the church media experts, members and the public collaborate in designing and realizing their own people media projects while enjoying a multiplicity of perspectives and know how. It is in this regard that I would like to spend some time in pinpointing what I believe church communication in Ibadan ought to focus on more than ever before.
Current Challenges and Pastoral Priorities
Gone are the days when Church media can be fairly referred to simply as propaganda media. As said before, Aetatis Novae has called on church communications to come to grips with the nitty-gritty of human community and progress. Even while facing the concern of direct evangelization, (animating, covering and reporting Church activities) Church communications in the archdiocese must lead the way in highlighting the equally important part of the evangelization mandate which we do not often pay attention to human. social development and progress. Communication is a democratizing phenomenon. It is not for nothing that in Nigeria today the forces who are against true democracy do everything in their power to obstruct the proper functioning of media. Indeed for agents of bad governance, the fear of the media is the beginning of wisdom. For example, if the Freedom of Information Bill had been treated with the same enthusiasm as other self-serving bills in our national assembly it would have long been passed. Due to the short attention span of the secular media in Nigeria little is heard of this critical bill today. In order to be true to its calling Church communication must identify, isolate and engage with important social questions. It must supply the focus and tenacity of purpose which the public media often seems to lack in issues like this. Of course this implies collaboration between the two realms. The same goes for issues regarding justice, good governance, accountability and others which could positively transform society.
Church communication must actively keep moral and ethical issues on the front burner of media and public attention and with the right focus. A number of moral and ethical issues have been raised in the Nigerian public discourse in recent months among which are the legalization of abortion, capital punishment, dignity of women etc. Permit me to say that the catholic view in the ensuing discourse was less than adequate. Just think about the media opposition against the Holy Father since he became Pope. An analysis of Catholic response to issues raised against him will indicate that we have a lot of work to do. There just must be a concerted calculated effort to not only respond to these issues when they are raised but also to proactively preempt the formulation of unwholesome policies and consistently raise their voice against unwholesome events in the society.
The issue of media education must never be allowed to diminish in the face of ravaging consumerism, pornography and violence in the public media. Church communications must seek all and every opportunity to promote media education and awareness to equip the public. The more critical the general public is in consuming media messages and products the more the sanity of society is protected from the real interests behind the glamor and glitter of the media. Would things have been different for the Kenyan fellow who hung himself just because Arsenal football club lost its cup tie to Manchester United if he had been told the amount of money, interest and influence driving the championship which have little to do with the cup?
Church media has a real challenge to enhance and protect culture and cultural values especially in these times of not so-positive globalization. One of the ways to do this is an active commitment to a talent-discovery and cultivation program. This ought to be one of the purposes of the annual World Day of Communications celebrations. From the beginnings the Church has helped to discover and sponsor artistic talents which have affected the history of humanity and of faith. It is a worthwhile and desirable assignment which authenticates the work of Church communications and helps to bring God’s people together in unity irrespective of religion denomination or class. It will demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of inculturation, dialogue and empowerment as emphasized by the Synod of African Bishops in 1994. Even this dimension needs to be carefully and deliberately planned and executed.
Clearly none of the above stated challenges can be faced without the cooperation of a vibrant, committed and well prepared body of Catholic Media Practitioners. Many Church documents have reiterated ad nauseam the irreplaceable role of the practitioners of media in anchoring the interaction between Church and society and between peoples. In order for this to happen, a credible formation program for catholic media practitioners and those who are sympathetic to the work of the Church is needed. Seminars, retreats, lectures can help the group to focus on a common goal. Such formation and support must be technical, social as well as spiritual. Part of it is to animate and open up international connections which will enhance the work and status of the practitioners. The practitioners of media themselves cannot afford to fold their arms and wait to be helped either. They must actively engage in ongoing formation, equipping themselves with the Church’s ample teaching in various dimensions not only of their work but of human life. The Social Teachings of the Church must not be allowed to remain a “well guarded secret” to a true catholic media practitioner. On top of this the individual catholic practitioner of media needs to develop a personal spiritual life with the Lord Jesus who is the “perfect communicator” to equip himself/herself for the moral challenges that are bound to present themselves in the course of his work.
Today’s Director/Coordinator of Communications
Pivotal to all the foregoing however is a competent, unassuming and skillful coordinator in the person of the Director of Communications. The Church requires it for every diocese. With the field of communications becoming more complex, I often wonder about the suitability of the current model we have in Nigeria of assigning a priest who is already full time parish priest among other assignments to be Director of Communications. The role of the Director today is that of a man of sacrifice, self sacrifice. His is not a role for status, or power but of service and results. His role is certainly not about age or position as the Bishops who attended the recent seminar in Rome have recommended by asking the Pontifical Council to co-opt young people who understand the language of the internet to help write even the next Church instruction on communication.
I want to say that the best policy for the contemporary Director of Communications ought to be this: “There is no limit to how far you can go if you do not mind who takes the credit” In other words the contemporary director/coordinator must actively provide the enabling environment, space and resources for his outfits to perform to the best of their abilities without hindrance of personality or status while he takes a background position. He must promote expertise wherever it is found. Perhaps more importantly, he must help church communications by providing clear policies and guidelineswhich will help the workers and outfits to function well independently as well as collaboratively. In other words he is a facilitator, one who makes it easy for the different outfits to choose to synergize where necessary and work separately where such is unavoidable. This is aimed at cutting costs, enhancing quality and witnessing to communion. In fact Church communication is not a field for competition but for cooperation and collaboration. The outfits too on the other hand must learn how to operate within the delineation of principles and policies as laid down. The archdiocese certainly needs to enable a Director that can make this happen.
In the Archdiocese of Ibadan Church communications needs to be better localized and adapted to the grassroots to save it from isolated elitism. My humble opinion is that while the Archdiocese of Ibadan has made great leaps in Church communications from the point of view of presence and of foraying into practically all areas of communications, there is still a lot work to be done in the area of coordination and mobilization of relevant forces for a people and service-oriented end. That common end, porpose and focus, though here expressed in different social and cultural manifestations, can be summarized in only one single expression – integral evangelization. That for me is the real overview of all Church communications