The head of the Vatican’s evangelization department said it is his “dream” to be able to “evangelize” those online, especially people who are in social media.
“[T]his is my dream, the formation online of those who frequently use online technology,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, papal legate to the general conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) in Thailand.
During a media briefing at the end of the FABC meeting, the Filipino cardinal stressed that “the digital world” can be “a tool for truth, sincerity, and transformation.”
“It is a fact of life that everyone, even the Church, especially the Church, should take cognisance of,” said Cardinal Tagle, Pro-Prefect for the Section of Evangelization of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization.
In a talk before Asian bishops on October 29, the cardinal said the Church is “called to evangelize social media.”
He said that even as social media has “been a blessing in the world,” citing how it connected families during the pandemic, it also affects the Church’s “involvement in the transformation of society.”
“We are being asked to be attentive, for the use of social media also changes our view of the human person in a very subtle way,” said the cardinal.
He noted studies that said social media has become a tool for “illusory self-sufficiency,” allowing users to construct their world with those who “like” them, eliminating those who do not “like” them.
The cardinal said this is the “world [young people] have learned to inhabit” where they believe that “when others do not like me, ‘I don’t care…. I will care for them only if they join my circle.’”
Importance of education
Cardinal Tagle stressed the importance of education in reaching out to the youth. “Education is the setting of our contact with the youth,” he told the gathering of Asian bishops.
He said the use of technology has resulted in the “lack critical thinking and empathy” in many young people.
“We might think of technology as an external tool, but they change consciousness,” he warned, adding that studies have noted that many among the youth have already lost the ability to read.
Cardinal Tagle said that digital learning, with its quick acquisition of bytes of information, results in the loss of nuance and complexity.
He said humans acquire empathy “when we delve into the reading of novels, we acquire critical thinking skills as we confront our own ideas with those of an author.”
“The same does not happen through watching visual content,” he said.
He warned Catholic Church leaders in Asia that “If we do not understand what is taking place in the development of our young people, it will result in a future of people who do not know how to think critically and a generation without empathy.”
He said the motivation to “evangelize social media” should always be present.
Response to extraordinary situation
Speaking to journalists later in the week, Cardinal Tagle said the “virtual” is a “response to an extraordinary situation” in moments of emergency like the pandemic.
“But now that the ordinary is coming back, I cannot go to you virtually and say, ‘This has me baptized,’” he said. “If there’s an opportunity for the full sacramental reality, why not.”
The cardinal stressed that he is “not diminishing the contribution of the virtual and the digital world during the pandemic.”
“It helped and it performed its mission,” he said.
He said, however, that “the Church lives by a sacramental reality, and when we talk about sacraments, we talk of visible signs, like water in baptism, bread and wine, the Eucharist, that speak of a deeper reality.”
“That sacramental structure of the Church and of evangelization would demand that when an emergency situation is over, and people could gather and we could touch each other again, we could touch water again, then that is the normal way,” said Cardinal Tagle.
He said it is a challenge for those engaged in the mission of the Church online to learn also from the pandemic “because it was not just sacraments and prayer services that we’re performing online.”
He acknowledge that there were “a lot of catechetical instructions, a lot of counseling that happened, a lot of biblical lessons that happened online.”
“We can pick up from there and maybe it could even expand to like, this is my dream, the formation online of those who frequently use online technology, on how the digital world could be a tool for truth, sincerity, and transformation.”