Vincentians and New Media

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

One of the five major commitments made by the 1998 General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission mandated greater use of the "new means of communication" in the service of mission.

The following summarizes the main lines of this commitment as presented in a 1998 article in VINCENTIANA.


Context

Vincent's Legacy of Inventiveness

Vincent did whatever was necessary to evangelize and serve the poor. His massive correspondence reveals how much communication mattered to him. His sense of mission led to creating new structures or doing traditional things in a new way .

As we enter a new millennium we are faced with some "givens" that call for us to tap Vincent's legacy of inventiveness.

New forms and causes of poverty

Some of the new forms of poverty are intimately connected with the rise of technology.

Lack of access to information creates a new form of apartheid and powerlessness. Without access to information technology many are voiceless regarding decisions affecting their development.

  • Who will speak for the poor?
  • Who will enable the poor to speak for themselves?

General Assembly - Fifth Commitment

The Final Document of the 1998 Assembly states:

"We are entering into an era of information technology which brings with it unrecognized, and therefore even more insidious forms of poverty. If the poor remain without access to information technology, they will be further marginalized and locked into a cycle of poverty."

Today the mass media continue to develop. A major issue is whether the poor will be able to participate in information technology so as to break out of the cycle of poverty and sit at the table with others, making their voice heard; and whether the Congregation of the Mission will use these new means in the service of mission.

The Internet is a powerful vehicle which can unite people. When used well it can foster human relationships and solidarity. As such it can be used for formation, collaboration, advocacy on behalf of those who have no voice, and for evangelization.

The Congregation of the Mission, through its members and structures, commits itself to:

  • take initiatives in fostering access by the poor themselves to the mass media so that they may participate in the benefits of communications technology;
  • establish a worldwide communication network and actively foster its use, providing economic and technological assistance where necessary;
  • seek actively the involvement of the wider Vincentian Family in accomplishing these objectives, and especially encourage the mutual distribution of publications through the Internet.

This commitment should be seen in light of two other commitments of the General Assembly: collaboration and formation

Collaboration

The third commitment of the General Assembly was "To collaborate with the other members of the Vincentian Family"

If we work in unison with the other members of the Vincentian Family, we can be a more effective force for evangelization and works of charity and justice in today'sworld. We will also strengthen the bonds that link us to one another. As we work together we also wish to respect the autonomy and identity of each group and individual within the Vincentian Family.

We recognize, as members of the Congregation of the Mission, the need for a change of heart if we are to collaborate generously with other members of the Vincentian Family and so recognize the gifts and talents of others in promoting the reign of God. For these reasons we commit ourselves to:

  • create the conditions for collaboration with members of the Vincentian Family by:
  • listening to one another
  • getting to know one another
  • sharing experiences of working with the poor
  • praying and reflecting together;
  • set up structures to coordinate what is already taking place, or will take place at local provincial, interprovincial and international levels, so that the different levels complement one another and subsidiarity is respected.
  • To respond together to the cries of the poor

The prophetic teaching of Saint Vincent that the poor are "our lords and masters"(26) challenges us once more as we enter a new millennium. Also, the increasing gap between rich and poor speaks to us with new urgency. Since charity and justice are two sides of the same coin, we commit ourselves to:

  • collaborate with the other members of the Vincentian Family in consecrating more of our time, our resources and our personnel to the evangelization of the poor, so as to contribute more to both their spiritual and human development;
  • plan specific projects at local, provincial, interprovincial and international levels to respond to the cries of the poor in our day in partnership with other members of the Vincentian Family and with the poor themselves;
  • address the causes of poverty in our different situations by participating with other members of the Vincentian Family in the work of Justice and Peace Commissions, both inside as well as outside Church contexts, and by creating specifically Vincentian forms of collaboration where the occasion calls for it;
  • support the movement for the cancellation or reduction of the international debts of poor countries to mark the Jubilee Year(27), in partnership with other members of the Vincentian Family.

Collaboration in Formation

The third commitment of the General Assembly was to collaborate in formation

To enflesh Saint Vincent's charism in the new millennium, it is essential that the members of his family be well rooted in his spirit. This is especially true for those just beginning on Vincent's way, but is also important for those who continue to let themselves be shaped by his spiritual experience.

Vincent's call to evangelize the poor was broad enough to include persons of all ages, all walks of life, and all vocations in the Church. Today, the many branches of the Vincentian Family draw from this common heritage and so are able to nourish one another in their efforts at formation. At the same time, each group in the family has understood him from its own experience and so has a unique wisdom about him to hand down to its own members. The formation program of one group can enrich other groups while still continuing to form its own members in its individual tradition. The Congregation of the Mission desires to collaborate in common formation projects, while respecting the autonomy of the different branches as they go about forming their own.

Specific commitments to formation

In the following three commitments, the Assembly affirms the principles already set down in our various Community documents on formation. Here, it concentrates mainly on the additional values and practices which arise from a new consciousness of our membership in the wider Vincentian Family.

Formation of Our Own: Initial and Ongoing

  • Each province or group of provinces will make every effort to incorporate into its initial and ongoing formation programs elements which reflect our relationship with the worldwide Vincentian Family.

These programs should:

  • convey a real interest in the spirituality, history, and charism of each of the family groups present in the region;
  • emphasize the necessity of teamwork and collaboration with the members of the wider family and provide training in the skills needed for this;
  • instill an overall sense of belonging to the family.
  • We should promote a certain integration of our formation programs with those organized by the members of the wider family in the region. To do so demonstrates our willingness to be of service to the other members of the family and in turn to be formed by them.

Because a sense of solidarity with the poor is essential to our charism, our members should strive to identify and address the forms and causes of poverty in the world and especially those nearest to us.

  • We will promote, especially for our students, the learning of other languages, sensitivity to other cultures, and a firm foundation in the social teachings of the Church. 5) The Visitors should encourage the confreres to take part in the CIF program and, where possible, organize similar programs on regional levels.

Formation of Our Own Formators

Because formation is so important and decisive a means for personal and community renewal, each province should show a special concern to provide the best possible preparation for its future formators.

In particular, it should work to secure adequate financial support for the integral formation of its members.

The provinces should have a sense of their co-responsibility for formation and be open to interprovincial cooperation by:

  • encouraging and facilitating the mobility of their formators,
  • sharing their economic resources,
  • welcoming confreres from other provinces who need specialized training in formation.
  • The Superior General and his council should study the possibility of creating in one or more places:
  • an international center for the formation of our formators,
  • an itinerant team of formators who would offer their services to formators in different provinces. These programs should train the participants in Vincentian spirituality, teaching methods, and multicultural sensitivity so they might work effectively in different parts of the world.

Formation of the Wider Vincentian Family

Each province or group of provinces will willingly respond to appeals from the different groups in the Vincentian Family for assistance in formation by:

  • collaborating in the initial and ongoing formation of their members;
  • helping to revitalize groups that are weak, and offering spiritual assistance to those that are alive and active;
  • establishing a formation team from both the Congregation of the Mission and the wider family to design the elements of a common formation program and promote gatherings for the purpose of deepening Vincentian spirituality and strengthening the sense of belonging to the Vincentian Family;
  • opening our existing programs for ongoing formation to the rest of the Vincentian Family where possible.

The international missions

"Today, as never before, the Church has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations. I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians and the missionaries and the young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time."(28)

All of us are invited to contribute to the preparation of the new Christian springtime by being docile to the action of the Holy Spirit.(29)

Collaboration in the Missions

Since the Holy Spirit has already opened the way to new forms of collaboration in some of our international missions and in other already established ones, we commit ourselves to:

  • encourage broad participation of the members of groups within the Vincentian Family, as well as of individual Vincentian collaborators, in both the established missions ad gentes founded by the provinces and in those under the direction of the Superior General.
  • establish a commission to develop a "ratio missionum" (guidelines for our missions), concerning: inculturation and north-south collaboration, criteria for accepting new missions, the process for selecting missionaries and for admitting candidates to the Congregation, relationship to the Vincentian Family, international support for already existing missions in individual provinces, procedures for regular evaluations, and funding.
  • recommend that the superior general study the possibility of establishing a secretariat for the new international missions for reasons such as: facilitating the relationships among the provinces, the branches of the Vincentian Family, other mission organizations, and himself; coordinating the gathering of information; searching out funds and other resources.

New means of communication

We are entering into an era of information technology which brings with it unrecognized, and therefore even more insidious, new forms of poverty. If the poor remain without access to information technology, they will be further marginalized and locked into a cycle of poverty.

Today the mass media continue to develop. A major issue is whether the poor will be able to participate in information technology so as to break out of the cycle of poverty and sit at the table with others, making their voice heard; and whether the Congregation of the Mission will use these new means in the service of mission. The Internet is a powerful vehicle which can unite people. When used well it can foster human relationships and solidarity. As such it can be used for formation, collaboration, advocacy on behalf of those who have no voice, and for evangelization.

The Congregation of the Mission, through its members and structures, commits itself to:

  • take initiatives in fostering access by the poor themselves to the mass media so that they may participate in the benefits of communications technology;
  • establish a worldwide communication network and actively foster its use, providing economic and technological assistance where necessary;
  • seek actively the involvement of the wider Vincentian Family in accomplishing these objectives, and especially encourage the mutual distribution of publications through the Internet.


The fifth and final commitment of the General Assembly challenges us to use creatively the new means of communication as powerful tools

  • to create the conditions for collaboration with members of our Vincentian Family, and
  • to foster actual collaboration with this expanding "circle of solidarity."

Creative and appropriate use of computers and information technology can revolutionize our methods and means of delivering services and investigating the underlying causes and long terms solutions to poverty.

A primary concern is not only how to use technology more effectively in our own work but also how to connect the poor with the skills and tools needed to have a voice in their own destiny.

We must also recognize that lack of access to computers can itself be an underlying cause of poverty.

Pope John Paul II, on World Communication Day in 1997, underlines his own concern:

"We must hope that the gap between the beneficiaries of the new means of information and expression and those who as yet do not have access to them will not become another intractable source of inequity and discrimination."

Today Vincent’s resourceful practical-mindedness calls us to examine fearlessly the two-edged sword of information technology and its impact on the poor.

Technology in the Service of Mission

To address today's great barriers to social and economic justice, we need not only infusions of youthful energy, but also the technical literacy of the young who are much represented on the Internet.

Already in 1989 Pope John Paul said

"Let us trust the young. They have the advantage of growing up with the new developments, and it will be their duty to employ these new instruments for a wider and more intense dialogue among all the diverse races and classes who share this `shrinking globe.'"

It has been a valuable tool in fostering collaboration, mutual support and formation in mission and charism.

Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles points to

"a statistical correlation between the lack of information technology in the less developed countries and the poverty in those countries."

He aptly describes an "Information Apartheid" that develops as few of the world's people have access to increasingly necessary means of communication and learning and even earning a living.

Perhaps a simpler way of stating this: We are fond of quoting Vincent, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. But teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." But all this presumes that he has fishing tools to fish and a place to fish.

Lacking these, all the knowledge in the world will not produce the next day's catch. Having information technology at one's disposal _ having access both to the tools and the knowledge is one aspect of the long term solution.

No one at the previous General Assembly, held in 1986, foresaw the technological developments that shape our world today. We can only guess at what the developments might bring for 2004. But we know this: these changes will have tremendous impact directly and indirectly, positively and negatively, on the poor we are committed to serve.

Will the unstoppable growth of information technology be a further cause of marginalization of the poor?

The poor have a right to sit at the table of the emerging measure of wealth and power _ information. It may well be that we need to re-imagine Lazarus as sitting at a distance from this new table of power begging for the crumbs that will be necessary to gain any measure of control over his destiny.

Evangelization

The opportunities for evangelization are manifold in what the Pope several times refers to as the "new areopagus."

Seekers from around the world are turning to the Internet looking for the spiritual dimension lacking in their lives.

And who knows whether what has begun as a search for meaning may even lead to a vocation or some other form of service. Online contact is often the first step in the journey to a more personal encounter with a wisdom figure.

Church Teaching

In her formal reflections, the Church has long acknowledged that communication media have a role in fostering community and in spreading the Gospel.

  • "The media of social communication can contribute a great deal to human unity" (Communio et Progressio, # 9). *
  • "The Church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means that human skill is daily rendering more perfect. It is through them that she proclaims `from the housetops' the message of which she is the depositary" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, # 45, 1975).
  • "Since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the `new culture' created by modern communications. This is a complex issue, since the `new culture' originates not just from whatever content is eventually expressed, but from the very fact that there exist new ways of communicating, with new languages, new techniques, and a new psychology" (Redemptoris Missio, # 37, 1990).

Will not this evangelization be part of the long-range solution to poverty as more and more people come to understand we cannot have God as Father without loving our sisters and brothers?


Opportunities

What does this mean on a practical basis?

The Bishops' Conference in Peru has said it well,

"Social communication is the new global form of love of neighbor and people. It is a love shown mainly through information and formation, helping people to think rather than suggesting how to think, assisting them in making choices and in their quest for personhood" (Bishops' Conference of Peru).

Just as Vincent once mobilized volunteers from the pulpit, we now have opportunities to use the Internet to help in gathering, forming, and supporting volunteers of all ages.

A decade ago Pope John Paul challenged us

"Whether we are young or old, let us rise to the challenge of new discoveries and technologies by bringing to them a moral vision rooted in our religious faith, in our respect for the human person, and our commitment to transform the world in accordance with God's plan. On this World Communications Day, let us pray for wisdom in using the potential of the `computer age' to serve man's human and transcendent calling, and thus give glory to the Father from whom all good things come."

Wider use of information technology can facilitate the planning and networking that underlie and support effective collaboration. Electronic communication will never replace face-to-face meetings, but much can be accomplished in collaboration _ and at far less expense _ using emerging technologies. So many causes, such as AIDS, have no geographic bounds. The solutions also must transcend national boundaries.

People around the world who share Vincentian values can learn from each other and, together, find ways of enhancing and improving direct service to the poor.

This is what all the commitments of the General Assembly are about. Information technology is a tool in the service of these commitments.

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