, 04 July, 2020 / 6:51 PM
At a virtual meeting targeting Francophone Africa convened to explore ways media can best serve the Church in Africa amid COVID-19 challenges, panelists have said that social media, which has been widely used during the pandemic, will continue to be engaged post-coronavirus.
Organized by the Union of the African Catholic Press (UCAP), the Friday, July 3 convention followed that held a week earlier targeting English-speaking Africa.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on the Catholic Church and the faithful a new behavior that will not disappear soon. Despite the easing of lockdown, the social media still has its place in Church communication,” the Deputy Secretary General of UCAP, Paul-Miki Roamba said while delivering his keynote address during the July 3 afternoon event.
The Burkinabe Journalist said the lockdown measure in a bid to minimize COVID-19 infections across the continent “permitted the Church and Christians to discover this new means of communication without physical meetings.”
“Given the importance of the social media in the Church during this crisis, it will still be useful even after the COVID-19 pandemic because it will be difficult for the Church and the Christians to separate from this means of communication that brought them together,” Paul-Miki, a journalist with Radio Ouaga in Burkina Faso explained.
He went on to highlight the various social media that have been engaged during pandemic saying, “Thanks to the church’s use of Facebook, millions of Christians could follow Mass and other teachings of the church during the lockdown; through WhatsApp, the faithful received daily readings and messages.”
Held under the theme, “The role of new media in Church service during and after COVID-19,” the July 3 afternoon virtual session brought together panelists drawn from different Francophone countries in Africa.
Also speaking at the event, Daniele Babooram, a Catholic journalist based in the Island nation of Mauritius observed that engaging social media has offered the people of God “opportunities for new evangelization.”
“COVID-19 made citizens live in fear of the unknown,” she said referencing her experience in Mauritius and added, “The Church intervened through social media with Cardinal Piat calling on the faithful to remain calm in prayer and solidarity.”
Another panelist, Stanislas Saralta advised Catholic journalists “to identify popular social media platforms in their respective countries, create a virtual audience, identify resource persons and fans, create a project, choose the means of communication, create a campaign and after evaluate and share the results obtained with your virtual community.”
The Chad-based journalist added, “The Catholic Journalists in Africa should prioritize popular social media platforms in order to mobilize human and financial resources.”
For Tina Ngoie Divita who is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), “To effectively use social media, it is necessary to understand (both) their nature (and) also ensure they are used in a responsible manner."
The Congolese journalist underscored the need the responsible engagement of social media saying, "We must show respect and responsibility to the private life and reputation of individuals.”
She cautioned against misinformation and disinformation saying, “With the amount of information received from the social media platforms, it is important for Catholic journalists to always do some verification before publishing or help the public ascertain the veracity of an information circulation on social media.”
On his part, UCAP President, Kenyan-born George Sunguh encouraged Catholic journalists “to be very close to our mother church.”
“Let us give every support possible, from our personal and professional perspectives to the church,” Mr. Sunguh said, adding in reference to the people of God, “We can work very closely with our dioceses and parishes to help them package information professionally so that we can reach our faithful with information which is not fake; the church depends on us especially for news on COVID-19 pandemic.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa