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Will better communications bridge the gap between North and Latin America?
BY Jim Cosgrove
Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán
Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán, ordinary of the southern Archdiocese of Yucatan, is a former president of the Commission of Communications of the Mexican bishops’ conference and a member of the Social Communication Commission of the Latin America bishops’ council (CELAM). The archbishop was one of the 15 Latin American bishops attending the Conference on New Technologies and the Human Person recently held in Denver. He spoke with Register correspondent Alejandro Bermudez at the conference.
Bermudez: What is the most important challenge that the Church in Latin America faces as regards the new technologies?
Archbishop Berlie: Nobody can doubt that new technologies, especially in the field of communications are presenting computer technology one of the biggest and most important challenges of the end of the century. As we have discussed in the conference, new communication technologies are reshaping the face of the world making it smaller and providing more and more people with the opportunity to reach millions of homes with almost any kind of message.
Therefore, this is not the world as we know it with just another “tool,” it is rather a world somehow culturally redefined by the new technologies. New opportunities are being created, but also new challenges that have to be clearly assessed. The NewTech Conference, in this sense, has provided us with a starting point for an ongoing conversation.
What opportunities do you see forthe Catholic Church in the area of new communications?
Obviously—if the mission of the Church is to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ—faster, more effective, and at the same time, personalized tools of communication provide an opportunity that the Church cannot reject. Moreover, they also create an environment, a “cyberspace,” in which the Church must be present. The technology has to be used as a new and better way to evangelize today's people.
Using these technologies and analyzing their consequences for the life of the human person and the Church has become a common interest that is helping achieve the increasing communion the Holy Father wants between North and Latin America. Despite our real differences, as one Church, we can use the new tools and face the new cultural challenges together looking forward to achieve the new evangelization needed in the new millennium.
What steps have been taken in that direction at the conference?
Suggestions have been discussed, but the current technological status of the dioceses represented at the conference, as well as the social and cultural environment, is quite diverse. It does not mean we cannot make common policies, but it means that most of them will have to be applied according to each particular situation.
Among the common policies, we have agreed on the need to increase the level of consciousness among the Catholic leadership, as well as in all those responsible for communication in our dioceses and episcopate. But since new technologies are so pervasive, another conclusion has been to train pastoral agents, especially seminarians and young priests, in the use and meaning of the new technologies.
How to achieve this will be a matter of further discussion. What is clear is that the awareness of new technologies as a challenge and an opportunity must be addressed at all levels: in our dioceses, parishes, Catholic organizations, movements, and schools.
How will new technologies assist in the task of evangelization as we approach the third millennium?
The upcoming great Jubilee moves us to prepare a big celebration for the 2,000th anniversary of Our Lord Jesus Christ's birth. We need to renew our desire to make everybody love and know him. This is the essence of the mission of the Catholic Church and we need to proclaim this message inviting everyone to follow him and live as he did.
Our lives, as bishops, priests, religious, or laypersons must be identified with his life because only in this way can we proclaim, celebrate, and serve our brothers and sisters, seeing Jesus Christ in each of them. In this context, new technologies, both as tools and as a “new Aeropagus” in which the Word must be proclaimed cannot be ignored. But the technologies must not be overestimated either. Human persons continue to have the same real needs and Christ is also the same.
Is the Catholic Church in Latin America taking advantage of the new technologies?
It is not easy to make a general assessment, but I can say that, in general, the interest is significant and is increasing, limited more by the lack of means than by the lack of a sense of the technologies’ importance. Mexico is a good example of the interest in Latin America. At present, half of the 80 Mexican dioceses have a Web page on the Internet and a project for an electronic news agency is on its way. But we are also improving our participation in the traditional mass media.
At present, the Catholic Church in our country maintains newspapers, radio stations, and a cable television channel named Clara Vision that transmits Catholic programs. Each Sunday, the Archdiocese of Mexico distributes about 715,000 copies of the paper among the houses of the capital city, giving them Catholic news, catechism lessons, and publishing articles with the Catholic perspective about the daily problems of our country. In my archdiocese there is a weekly TV program transmitted by the regional television channel.
New technologies are being assumed and integrated with “traditional” technologies. At a continental level, CELAM and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications have been fostering a computer network of the Church in Latin America, which is trying to give to each episcopate in the region the possibility of access to the new media and computer networks. From Web pages and the use of e—mail for faster communications, we are moving to the field of data bases and electronic libraries. Networking is useless if there is not a great deal of good content to share and communicate.
What advantages do you expect will come with these technologies?
For one, the improvement of two—way communication between the bishop and the pastor, the bishop and the parishes, the parishioners with their pastors and so on. I am also envisioning an improvement in the capacity of my seminarians to reach better information more quickly.
Besides, the use and application of the new technologies puts us in contact with experts who will be exposed to the Word of the Lord. This is important, because we need them as close cooperators in the task of the New Evangelization.
How can the Church in Latin America improve its use of the new technologies?
One of the most important fields is education. It is urgent for us to have in our seminaries special programs to prepare the future priests to become good users of the new technologies. The seminarians need to receive information about how to use the new media and how to be open to emerging technologies.
Our Catholic universities must be close to the bishops and available to share with us their intellectual richness in these fields. We need to use the youth and human potential—guided by good teachers—that exists in their classrooms to evaluate and understand the use, the applications, and the consequences of the new tools.
In addition, we have to improve the formation of our priests, perhaps through special courses, to make them understand that today it isn't enough to proclaim the Word, we have to penetrate the different cultural environment with the Gospel, inviting everybody to an authentic conversion, using those specific technologies as instruments to bring people to God.
What did the NewTech Conference mean for the Church in Latin America?
After my participation in the Synod for America, I see in this event the continuation of the great, fraternal relationship started between Latin and North American bishops.
For a long time, the Holy Father has spoken about the new methods that we— as bishops and priests—need to have in order to proclaim the Gospel at the onset of the third millennium. I am convinced that after the NewTech Conference we will be able to face as brothers, despite natural and cultural differences, the great challenges that the new millennium is presenting to us all.