In the Middle East, Seeking “Dialogue With the Digital Culture”

The church continues to seek ways to reach hearts and minds across the boundaries of conflict and into the uncharted frontier of the new technological age.

This week, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications is sponsoring a seminar in Harissa, just north of Beirut, for bishops in the Middle East to look at how the church communicates in the region.

Vatican Radio has details:

President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, says the event, part of a series of seminars planned in cooperation with bishops’ conferences around the world, is just one response to the new challenges created by new technologies…

“We think one of the more important challenges that the church has to face in this moment is how to have a real, concrete dialogue with the digital culture … with our people today,” he says. “Especially the young generations because these young generations are involved in the digital culture. It’s their way of living.”

The seminar, running from 17 to 20 April, is bringing together some 50 bishops and 20 priests working in the field of communications in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the Holy Land, Jordan and Iraq and is being coordinated with the help of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East. The four-day encounter, focusing on the theme of “Communications in the Middle East as an Instrument of Evangelization, Dialogue and Peace,” follows on the heels of the 2010 Synod for the Church in the Middle East. Pope Benedict XVI himself is due to pay a pastoral visit to Lebanon in September to present the post-synodal exhortation of that Synod.

One seminar participant, Father Fady Tabet, calls the communications seminar “timely” especially given the recent conflicts in the Middle East and the Arab Spring. Director of the Voice of Charity Radio in Jounieh, Lebanon, Father Fady told Tracey McClure about some of the challenges facing the church in the Middle East as it tries to transmit Christ’s message of peace in a region in upheaval and not always tolerant of the Christian minority.

Father Fady says he expects the Lebanon seminar to send a message of unity within the Catholic Church, comprised of many Eastern churches in addition to the Latin Church — something particularly urgent now, he suggests, as Christians in the region look to the future with a certain degree of trepidation.

“The role of social communications and media [in the church] now,” he says, “is to spread the word of God and to strengthen our Christian people who are living this fear … in the Middle East.”

Father Fady knows all about fear. He has been the target of death threats, a 2005 bomb attack on his radio station, and an Israeli airstrike on its antennae the following year.

But these threats to his life and to his job have done little to deter Father Fady from continuing his mission of bringing the Christian voice to the Middle East. What the church there urgently needs now, he says, is to meet emerging challenges posed by traditional forms of communications and new media.

“We need to understand today that the mass media is the first power in the whole world. Because unfortunately we don’t know how to talk to the youth. We don’t know how to talk to the people who don’t come to the church.”

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