The Corona lockdowns and the need to find alternatives for face-to-face communication and events have given a further boost to the development of new forms of exchange, learning, teaching and sharing via digital means of communication. In this process, previous events were not only simply moved to the Web, but new event formats and contexts were created. In the past two years, digital formats have also led to changes in relationships and exchange, helped overcome spatial distances, made new interactions possible, but also brought along new types of obstacles and restrictions.
CAMECO explored these developments on 26 May at the workshop “Mehr als Bildschirm teilen?” (Sharing more than screens?) with interested participants of the Universal Church Forum at the German Catholic Convention in Stuttgart, which was jointly organised with missio Aachen.
Three experts informed this discussion, showcasing examples from the Global South on how to employ digital communication tools in building, shaping, and maintaining communication, relationships and community.
Fr Sebastian Painadath, a Jesuit from India shared his experience of conducting online meditations for hundreds of German participants during the corona pandemic. As he was not able to travel to Germany as planned during this time, he held these meditations using video conferencing tools, bringing his Ashram in Kerala India into the candlelit German living rooms. More than 300 German participants thus meditated in front of their screens, guided by him, and tried to create a contemplative atmosphere at home under the special circumstances of the pandemic.
Fr Roberto Ponti, MSP, worked on a digital media literacy project in the Democratic Republic of Kongo and presented his approach to empowering the role of traditional communities such as families, parishes and school communities in the good use of digital media and media literacy. The aim was to help families tackle their communication challenges with mobile phones, raising awareness of the good and bad things that can happen on social media, without demonisation. The project used the off-line structures of schools, parishes and families and employed self-made short video stories to present typical challenges with digital communication as well as examples of making the best use of it for one’s own benefit.
Fr Fabrizio Colombo, an Italian Comboni Missionary from CREC (Centre de Recherche et Education en Communication) is convinced that the good use of media in communicating has never been just about distributing messages through media but that “The message is You”. According to him, it is most important to empower individuals and unleash their ability to get their message across in their own personal way. Today’s social media emphasise the very personal aspects of communication. A significant shift takes place away from what is said and towards the one who is saying it, shaped by their personality. Fr Fabrizio also presented the concept of a training for communicators and influencers in Africa, promoting innovative mechanisms for the development of faith communication in the digital space in the dioceses of the Global South.
In the ensuing discussions after the presentations, participants shared their views and experiences of these shifts, which are taking place both in the Global South and in Germany. Despite the limitations and discrepancies in comparison to personal face to face communication, the use of digital tools has expanded the possibilities of interaction and created new forms of communication and relationships between individuals as well as communities.
When asked about the reach and importance of online communication in the everyday lives of people in the Global South, Fr Ponti shared his observation that there are indeed differences between rich and poor families, not all of whom have smartphones. However, in contrast to Europe, social media are often seen as essential for organising one’s daily life and small businesses, and less as a tool for chatting and leisure. Ten years ago, people were begging for bread in front of his convent in Kinshasa, today they are often begging to be connected to the convent’s Wifi.