Skip to content
Top banner
Language

Digi-Mission: You Will Be My Witnesses to the Ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8)

ARC Admin
2022-10-21 16:44 UTC+7 714
From the beginning of Christianity, evangelisers have always made good use of any resources that could enhance their spreading of the Good News. St. Paul preached the message of the Risen Christ by writing letters to his fledgling Christian communities.


Clement Baffoe[1]

 Religion and Social Communication 19, No. 2 (2021)



Abstract


This essay discusses the importance of digital media in the Church’s mission especially during these times of the Covid-19 Pandemic when people’s movements and physical contacts have been restricted. Bringing together the words ‘digital’ and ‘mission’, the author coins the word ‘digi-mission’ which is simply the act of doing mission using the digital tools and the various media platforms at our disposal. Whereas the term ‘digi-mission’ is new, the process of evangelizing using digital platforms is not new. The essay cites certain real life examples of how people all over the world have been engaged in ‘digi-mission’. Reiterating some invaluable suggestions made by various Church documents on the importance of media in proclaiming the Good News of Christ and also the role media has played during this Pandemic, the author holds that it would be disappointing if the Post-Pandemic Church abandons social communications in its evangelizing work.

Keywords: Digi-mission, digital media, Church mission, evangelization

 

 

Introduction

 

From the beginning of Christianity, evangelisers have always made good use of any resources that could enhance their spreading of the Good News. St. Paul preached the message of the Risen Christ by writing letters to his fledgling Christian communities. Today, we continue to preach the message of Christ not so much by letters but by using the technological tools we have at our disposal. In this essay, I wish to introduce a new term – “digi-mission”. The term “digi-mission", coined by me, is the combination of two words: Digital and Mission.

 

One might be asking the rationale behind this novel name. Recently, the Provincial of the Society of the Divine Word, Australia Province, Fr. Rass Asaeli, SVD, at an SVD Queensland District meeting, asked the confreres to suggest a theme for our 19th General Chapter in 2024. Listening to the many confreres who spoke during the meeting, it was obvious that all wanted a theme that acknowledged the importance of media and social communication, considering especially their impact on our ministries during these times of the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. It was after this meeting that the thought of bringing together the two words “digital” and “mission” came to my mind. 

 

The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines “digital” as “using or relating to computers and the internet.” “Digi-mission” then is simply the act of doing mission using digital technology and media. It is a mission style which goes “out of itself”, reaches out, never limited by church buildings, walls, territorial borders or even the invisible enemies such as the coronavirus.

 

The Catholic Church has always encouraged its faithful to make good use of the means of social communication and the myriad opportunities they offer. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications, speaking about the importance of media in its document Ethics in Communications, says the media provide significant advantages from a religious point of view since “they carry news and information about religious events, ideas, and personalities; they serve as vehicles for evangelization and catechesis. Day in and day out, they provide inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities for worship to persons confined to their homes or to institutions.”[2] “But over and above these, there also are benefits which are more or less peculiar to the internet. It offers people direct and immediate access to important religious and spiritual resources.”[3]

 

Focusing on the text of Acts 1:8, I would like to reflect on how “digi-mission” fulfils the promise of Jesus, in which he charges his disciples to embark on a global, boundless, and an all-inclusive mission. The mission, which until that time had been mostly around Galilee, Jerusalem and also to only the lost sheep of Israel (Mt. 10:6), was due to be worldwide. The renowned Bible scholar Charles Talbert states that “the end of the earth” in Acts 1:8 could best be understood as “everywhere.”[4]

 

Digi-mission:You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

 

Since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, people in ministry have sought creative ways to reach out to those to whom they minister. James McTavish, a missionary priest working in the Philippines, reflects that it is the Holy Spirit who is squeezing this creativity out of those in ministry during this time of the pandemic.[5] I find McTavish’s statement to be in line with the message of Acts 1:8 since it was only after the Holy Spirit had empowered the Apostles that they were able to go out and be witnesses of Christ everywhere. Having been baptised and confirmed, God’s people have been empowered in this time of the pandemic with creative thoughts and ways to be able to bring the love of Christ to people even at “the end of the earth”. Many churches and parishes have opted to having liturgies and prayer sessions online. Among the various media used are Facebook, WhatsApp, Zoom, Telegram, YouTube, and pre-recorded liturgies. One cannot overemphasise how instrumental these media platforms have been in connecting Christian communities. Thus, although people cannot physically gather due to the multiplicities of lockdowns and limits on church attendance, gatherings have been possible online.

 

From the outset, I must acknowledge that doing mission digitally has its own setbacks as well. It is worth recognizing that “digi-mission” could sometimes exclude certain generations of people, for instance the elderly, certain economic classes of people, especially those who cannot afford the gadgets for communication, people who lack adequate technological literacy, and people who live outside of coverage areas. For instance, during my priesthood ordination in November 2020 my parents and family in Ghana, who not only could not travel to Australia due to the pandemic, also could not watch the ordination Mass online since the poor network in my village would not permit them to follow the live streaming. This is an example of how “digi-mission” could sometimes exclude some people. 

 

Moreover, “digi-mission” could be so virtual that the therapeutic nature of physical and human touch is lost. In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis observes that the digital media “lack the physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language and even the smells, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration that speak to us and are a part of human communication….Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.”[6]

 

Acknowledging this shortcoming, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications about two decades before Pope Francis’ encyclical still opined, “Although the virtual reality of cyberspace cannot substitute for real interpersonal community, the incarnational reality of the sacraments and the liturgy, or the immediate and direct proclamation of the gospel, it can complement them, attract people to a fuller experience of the life of faith, and enrich the religious lives of users.”[7] In the same vein, Anthony Le Duc succinctly argues that the ‘virtual’ reality of the digital space is not empty. According to him, there is an embodiment or actual and real physical human presence behind what is seen or heard via the digital media. The ‘virtual’ also has real effects on real people and hence is more than just ‘virtual’.[8]

 

It is worth mentioning that “digi-mission” has challenged the traditional ways of worshipping and doing mission. Defining a diocese or a parish as a specific geographical area seems no more entirely true (Can. 372 §1 and Can. 518). The definition of a parish and diocese has become very much fluid. Writing about the need of a parish to go beyond its own space, the U.S. bishops in their statement Called to Global Solidarity state, “A parish reaching beyond its own members and beyond national boundaries is a truly ‘catholic’ parish. An important role for the parish is to challenge and encourage every believer to greater global solidarity.”[9]

 

Mission in the time of the pandemic has not only been to our local parishes and dioceses, thus the “lost sheep of the house of OUR Israel” (Mt. 10:6). For many people, the world is now their parish and diocese. With gadgets and social media at our disposal, one could choose to attend Mass elsewhere in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, or Europe. When the pandemic broke out in 2020, I was living in a parish in the Melbourne Archdiocese. We were three pastors from three different countries living in the community. After our Mass recordings, we would send the videos to our respective home countries – Vietnam, India and Ghana. In addition, we sent them to our friends all over the world. Although these Masses were recorded to serve our immediate parish, in the end we were actually getting “overseas parishioners” to worship with us. Furthermore, because in Australia dioceses often use national TV or radio stations to broadcast their liturgies, the liturgies end up going nationwide. Against this backdrop, most people are no more bound to their local parish or diocese. A person could choose to “attend” Mass in the neighbouring parish, diocese, or country. One has the option of choosing Mass celebrated by a priest elsewhere who has may have a short but spiritually nourishing homily. From this perspective, “digi-mission” helps the Church avoid tendencies towards nationalism and ethnocentrism which do not promote “missio ad gentes.” 

 

Although Jesus could not have had the idea of “digi-mission” in mind in Acts 1:8, it is not farfetched to connect his original mission plan for the apostles with “digi-mission” of the digital age. According to Acts 1:8, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” At the time of this promise, the disciples were in Jerusalem; however, Jesus told them that their ministry would go even to the ends of the earth. Just as this mission mandate was to be beyond local boundaries, so it is with “digi-mission“. Buttressing this point, the Pastoral Instruction Communio et Progressio says, “It would be difficult to suggest that Christ's command [to go to the end of the earth] was being obeyed unless all the opportunities offered by the modern media to extend to vast numbers of people the announcement of his Good News were being used.”[10] “Digi-mission” is the way of ministering within one’s own “Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria but also to the ends of the earth.” In the literary context of this essay, Jerusalem and Judea could be thought of as our immediate surroundings and local parishes where we are already at home with things. Likewise, Samaria in the present context might be compared to those around us who like the Biblical Samaritans were not at peace with the Jews.

 

The “Samaritans" thus are those who hitherto have been excluded from our everyday ministries such as the sick and homebound, the aged in nursing homes, divorced people, people working tight shifts among others. These people can now get a better share of the Church’s missionary efforts. It is now possible for people whose busy schedules excluded them from Masses to still participate whether on the train or bus. Even though I had previously pointed out the possibility of “digi-mission” being exclusive to certain groups of people, at the same time, “digi-mission” can also promote inclusiveness in our ministries, especially for those who are housebound, sick or even working long shifts. For instance, the ‘Mass for You at Home’ website states that “Mass for You At Home is the longest-running religious program on Australian television. The show enables viewers who are isolated from the usual parish celebration – through age, distance, illness, imprisonment or other reasons – to participate in a Sunday Mass from their homes.”[11]

 

One important area of ministry of the Catholic Church, greatly supported by Pope Francis, is the ministry to migrants and refugees.[12] It is exciting to mention how migrants and asylum seekers have been ministered to in this time of the pandemic through digital means. In the book Pastoral Creativity, I read with delight the story of Maria Tien Phan. Phan is a Vietnamese who works at Assumption University of Thailand in the Human Resource Department. In her essay, Phan speaks about the language barrier that exists between the Thai Government officials and many undocumented Vietnamese migrant workers and refugees in Thailand during the early months of the pandemic. She recounts that the Pastoral Committee for the Vietnamese Migrant Workers approached her to create a Facebook page through which, Phan who has a good command of both the Vietnamese and Thai languages, could support the Vietnamese migrants. Through this media, Phan was able to answer questions and also explain various pandemic related matters to many undocumented Vietnamese migrants who were at times subjected to ‘fake news’ on Facebook because they were not fluent in the Thai language. Even though Phan was approached by the Church to undertake this important social justice mission, it is heart-warming when Maria says her outreach was not only to Catholics but non-Catholics as well.[13]

 

Phan’s Facebook ministry to the undocumented migrant workers in Thailand is a classic example how mission is being done using the digital tools at our disposal. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and through “digi-mission,” Phan has been able to be a witness of Christ to the oft-neglected group of undocumented migrant workers.

 

Also, another world worth discussing in connection with “digi-mission” is the world of young people. It is one of the worlds that is easily left out of our ministries due to is special and complex nature. Pope Francis in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God, Christus Vivit, describes the digital environment as “a public square where the young spend much of their time and meet one another easily, even though not all have equal access to it, particularly in some regions of the world. They provide an extraordinary opportunity for dialogue, encounter and exchange between persons….can facilitate the circulation of independent information providing effective protection for the most vulnerable and publicizing violations of their rights. In many countries, the internet and social networks already represent a firmly established forum for reaching and involving young people, not least in pastoral initiatives and activities.”[14] It is a well-known fact that even before the Covid-19 pandemic befell the world, the majority of young Catholics did not attend Masses or liturgies. And so, instead of waiting to have young people come to church on Sundays, the Church should rather go to where they are and where they spend much of their time, and that space is the digital world. As seen in Pope Francis’ observation above, the digital environment offers opportunities for dialogue, encounter, exchange between people and also standing up for justice. Therefore, some contemporary principles of mission such as dialogue, encounter, justice, peace and integrity of creation are being made possible among young people. This clearly demonstrates what “digi-mission” is all about.

 

Another way that “digi-mission” is contributing to nourishing people’s spiritual lives is by helping them to pray and worship God from the comfort and convenience of their homes. The programs can be accessed even when one is not physically at church for Mass or have time to “attend” at the livestream. In addition to nourishing people’s spiritual lives, “digi-mission” has also brought different mission situations to people’s awareness allowing more global and effective actions to be taken. Due to “digi-mission” it has become easier for people, especially Christians in the global South and North to share ideas on issues such as migration, ecological crises, and social injustices in order to find holistic solutions. Despite being able to bring people from diverse cultures and geographical locations together, doing mission through digital media helps to reduce our carbon footprints in the atmosphere. However, it must be noted that using digital media also produces greenhouse gasses even if in much smaller quantities compared to cars and planes.[15] Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) observes that transport alone accounts for roughly 23% of the energy used in the United Kingdom. CAFOD in its action plan is calling on people to have car-free days as well as forgo flights when going on vacation.[16]

 

In a similar way, instead of driving or flying to different areas for mission work, we can now minister or engage in mission via Zoom or Facebook. Having been spared travelling due to the digital environment, the amount of carbon one would have contributed to the atmosphere is significantly reduced. This is one of the concrete ways to prophetically proclaim the message of ecological conversion.

 

Lastly, the pandemic offers us opportunities to raise questions to ourselves and each other. Could the pandemic be God’s way of teaching us to worship Him in Spirit and Truth? (Jn. 4:24)? Could it be God’s way of telling us to extend our mission beyond our self-referential and cocooned church environments to the ends of the earth? Again could it also be God’s way of teaching us to be creative and be open to the technological signs of the times? I do not have any certain answers to these questions but they are worthy of our reflections and meditations. I am aware that articulating the questions in this way is theologically controversial, and I am cognizant of Stephen Bevans’ words that “we cannot say that this pandemic is in any way God’s will, a test of our faith, or permitted by God….”[17] However, I would like to humbly suggest that since Bevans has not given any cogent argument to refute the claim that the pandemic is in any way God’s will or permitted by God, I think him saying that the pandemic cannot be God’s will is open to question. As St. Paul argues, O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rm. 11:33-34). I rather would like to keep an open mind on this matter of God’s will. After all, nobody can be certain of this! Those claiming it is God’s will or permitted by God equally do not have any definitive arguments to convince us. As real changes are caused by crises, “digi-mission” might surely be one of the many changes the pandemic has brought to us. Also, I strongly think that it would be disappointing if the post Covid-19 Church does not move into the future with these great tools of the “new normal.” These technologies must effectively complement our traditional face-to-face ways of ministering in order to bring forth the reign of God.

 

Conclusion

 

I conclude this essay by reiterating that the promise of Jesus to his apostles in Acts 1:8 is urgently being fulfilled in the days of the Covid-19 pandemic via the use of digital tools and the internet. Despite the virtual nature of “digi-mission”, it has been clarified in this writing that “digi-mission” has an element of physical embodiment which might be understood as ‘real-virtual’. This process which has already begun before the pandemic but was intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic is what I have identified as “digi-mission.” “Digi-mission” is helping to bring Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 to fulfilment. All of us can now take part as Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth by way of this form of mission.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bevans, Stephen B. “The Shift of Mission Paradigm in the Church and SVD.” Verbum SVD 62, no. 1 (2021): 21-33.

 

Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. “Your carbon footprint.” Accessed 30/09/2021.

https://www.cafod.org.uk/Campaign/COP26-climate-summit/Your-carbon-footprint .

Le Duc, Anthony and Mi Shen, John. eds. Pastoral Creativity Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic: Global Experiences. Manila: Logos Publications, 2021.

 

Mass for You at Home. Accessed 3/10/21. https://www.Mass for You at Home – The official website of Mass For You At Home, Australia.

 

Műeller, Elisabeth. “The Digital World and CO₂: Mails also Cause Greenhouse Gases.” Accessed 30/09/2021. https://www.The Digital World and CO₂: Mails also Cause Greenhouse Gases – VIVAT International.

Order of the Second Vatican Council. Communio et Progressio. Pastoral Instruction. 1971.

 

Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Ethics in Communications. 2000.

Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The Church and Internet. 2002.

Pope Francis. Christus Vivit. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. 2019.

 

Pope Francis. Fratelli Tutti. Encyclical Letter. 2020.

 

Talbert, Charles H. Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2005.

 

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Called to Global Solidarity.” Accessed 3/10/2021. https://www.Called to Global Solidarity International Challenges for U.S. Parishes | USCCB.

 


[1] Clement Baffoe is a Divine Word Missionary priest working in the Townsville Diocese in Australia. He is originally from Ghana but did most part of his Priesthood formation in Australia at the Yarra Theological Union, a college of the University of Divinity. He was ordained to the Priesthood in November 2020 in Melbourne. He recently published a book about his upbringing in an African village and his journey towards becoming a Divine Word Missionary priest titled Looking Back, Walking Forward. Currently he is an Associate Pastor at the Ministerial Region of the Good Shepherd Parish, Kirwan.

[2] Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in Communications (2000), no.11.

[3] Pontifical Council for Social Communications, The Church and Internet (2002), no. 5.

[4] Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2005), 9.

[5] Anthony Le Duc and John Mi Shen, eds., Pastoral Creativity Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic: Global Experiences (Manila: Logos Publications, 2021), 105.

[6] Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, Encyclical Letter (2020), no. 43.

[7] Pontifical Council for Social Communications, The Church and Internet (2002), no. 5.

[8] Le Duc and Mi Shen, Pastoral Creativity Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic, 221-224.

[9] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Called to Global Solidarity,” accessed 3/10/2021. https://www.Called to Global Solidarity International Challenges for U.S. Parishes | USCCB.

[10] Order of the Second Vatican Council, Communio et Progressio, Pastoral Instruction (1971), no. 126.

[11] Mass for You at Home, accessed 3/10/21. https://www.Mass for You at Home – The official website of Mass For You At Home, Australia .

[12] Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, nos. 37-41, 80.

[13] Le Duc and Mi Shen, Pastoral Creativity, 127-132.

[14] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (2019), no. 86.

[15] Elisabeth Műeller, “The Digital World and CO₂: Mails also Cause Greenhouse Gases,” accessed 30/09/2021. https://www.The Digital World and CO₂: Mails also Cause Greenhouse Gases – VIVAT International.

[16] Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, “Your carbon footprint,” accessed 30/09/2021.

https://www. cafod.org.uk/Campaign/COP26-climate-summit/Your-carbon-footprint.

[17] Stephen B. Bevans, “The Shift of Mission Paradigm in the Church and SVD,” Verbum SVD 62, no. 1 (2021): 25-26.

Share