, 12 March, 2020 / 2:15 AM
The people of God in Africa and their leadership have a lot to offer to the global Catholicism including testimonies about the growth and progress of Gospel values among believers. However, the Church on the continent faces the challenge of telling its stories within and across the globe, the Bishop coordinating the communication commissions of the episcopal conferences in Africa told ACI Africa in an interview last week.
“Africa does have a voice. We have something to contribute to the whole world,” the President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS), Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo said, recalling a past exchange with Pope Francis who, he says, made a similar observation about the people of God on the continent.
“When I met with the Holy Father at the beginning of my mandate, that was precisely what he said, that even if the whole world is saying everything, Africa's voice needs to be heard,” the Bishop recounted in reference to his 2015 meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican as part of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) delegation.
The Nigerian Prelate said that the Church in Africa has experienced immense growth over the years and underscored the need for these developments to be documented on the global platform.
“The African church has, since the 1994 synod, chosen the theme of the “Church in Africa as family of God.” Now, a lot has been happening in various (Bishops’) conferences in the other regions, but there has been no way of documenting what's been happening,” lamented Bishop Badejo, expressing the communication gaps in networking and making known the activities of the commissions for social communication on the continent.
He added, “There's been no way of projecting what is happening. There's no way for the world to know, for example, what Africa really believes, what the Catholic Church in Africa believes and has achieved in the area of strengthening the family, for example, or even having a voice in the changes that have come with the concept of the family in the whole world.”
The Local Ordinary of Oyo in Nigeria is at the helm of CEPACS, a body at the level of Bishop in Africa that brings together Bishops responsible for Social Communication in their respective Conferences on the continent.
This entity was already on its knees when Bishop Badejo officially took charge in 2016, grappling with lack of human resources as well as minimal awareness among stakeholders in the various regions within Africa and Madagascar for which it was created to serve.
“When I came in in 2016, it was very clear that the awareness of the importance of communication had gone down because the CEPACS office, which existed many years before I came into the picture, had practically gone into recess. And so, with lack of awareness, there wasn't much attention paid to communication,” the Nigerian Prelate shared.
He explained, “We needed to educate people a lot more. Many of the conferences in Africa didn't have a working communications office as such … There were only one or two regional offices that were working and SECAM works by regional offices. So, if the offices were non-existent, the activities, you can be sure, were not happening.”
Additionally, the Nigerian Prelate said, some regional episcopal conferences did not have Bishops in charge of Communications and relied on a priest or some other official for communication, a situation that did not fit the purpose of the communication outfit.
His first challenge in his role as President of CEPACS, he recalled, was to seek to set up communication offices in the eight regional conferences that constitute SECAM.
Today, six out of the eight regional conferences of SECAM now have communication offices, Bishop Badejo reported during the March 5 interview in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi where he was taking part in SECAM Standing Committee meeting.
The six Regional Bishops’ Conferences with communication entities include the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt (AHCE), the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACEAC), the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa Region (ACERAC), the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) as well as the Regional Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA/CERAO).
Other regional conferences are the Madagascar and Episcopal Conferences of Indian Ocean (CEDOI) and the Regional Episcopal Conferences of North Africa (CERNA).
With the regional communication offices in place, the Nigerian Prelate has expressed optimism that the Church in Africa can have the possibility to be heard through some collective forums and “contribute to the discourse on the natural family, the traditional family and the Christian family all over the world.”
He shared with ACI Africa about his belief that “there is a new awareness, a new determination in SECAM and in the standing committee of SECAM to strengthen our communication outfit, communication platforms and to encourage our communication practitioners even more.”
He went on to encourage the people of God in Africa to embrace and engage digital media, saying that the Church is no longer in the habit of shying away from the use of social media.
“It is important for the Church in Africa to show interest in those who practice media, both the professionals and the mere practitioners, those who use social media, the new incomers who don't have any professional skills but have all the tools at their disposition,” the Nigerian Prelate who specialized in communication during his post graduate studies in Rome told ACI Africa.
He added, “It's also important for even the church to have the humility to be taught in a way by these young people and these newcomers who have all the skills of communication and new ways of uprooting issues of the world today.”
The 58-year-old Church leader went on to advocate for responsible communication saying, “no matter how good communication is, if there is no awareness and attention paid to the ethical dimension, there can be some dangers.”
“In the beginning when the social media was making headline news, the Church used to shy away from the use of the various social media platforms,” he recalled, adding that in many countries now, such as Nigeria, “the bishops have understood the importance of these media in new evangelization.”
“Really it's part of the DNA of the Church to maintain some caution when there are new means and methods of communication that come out. Well, that is true, the Church right now has no choice because the new media are intrusive, they are compulsive, they are everywhere, they are ubiquitous, and is it either you engage with them or You get left behind,” Bishop Badejo further said.
Bishop Badejo’s sentiments were echoed by Mario Enzler, a Professor at the Catholic University of America who, addressing Catholic priests in Ghana, encouraged the engaging of communication gadgets and forums in the digital age and the making of their voices heard in the internet through Facebook, twitter and other applications associated with social media and digital communications.
“Priests must emulate the example of the Holy Father, Pope Francis had over 60 million fans on his twitter platform,” Prof. Enzler said and added, “Diocesan websites and parish social media platforms must be established and managed in such a way that they become interesting arena for digital natives such as the youth, veritable grounds for exchange of ideas and for evangelization for the faithful.”
In Nigeria, Bishop Badejo said, there have been workshops aimed at equipping communications managers including Priests and religious Sisters with tools to engage with audiences on the digital media platforms.
He said the trainings through workshops in his country have “helped a lot because after that, a lot of bishops took communication more seriously.”
“Diocese that did not have communication offices established them and not only established them, but also helped them to make plans that will have relevance to the Church’s pastoral work,” he added.
Additionally, in Nigeria, the Bishop said the Center for the Study of African Arts and Communication (CESAAC) has been set up to help more people with the opportunity to study communication.
“As I speak now, very many priests and sisters and even laypeople are studying communication in that institute in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. That helps a lot,” he said, adding, “Pastoral communication is no longer something out there. It's something that people actually practice and do love to practice and understand why it is important to the life of the Church. So that has helped tremendously.”
With the availability of mass communication tools, such as the smartphone, the Nigerian Prelate said the Church is losing its foothold in being the source of information.
“The Church has ceased being the teacher and teaching everybody else. It has to get to come to terms with the fact that we are just a voice among so many. And we have to try as much as possible to promote that voice as best as we can, as often as we can, so that people have the ability to access it,” Bishop Badejo said.
At CEPACS, the Nigerian Prelate has invented an acronym AIFENT which stands for Awareness, Information, Formation, Engagement, Network and Transformation pertaining to spreading the Word of God through available digital media platforms, he told ACI Africa.