Her photo on Instagram immediately attracts attention and brings a smile to my face. There is a nun holding a baby crocodile, and tagged with the comment: “When you answer Jesus Christ’s call you never know what can happen. I thought finding a vocation and following God was boring, I was wrong. Instead, it resembles a roller coaster ride”. Sister Allison is a novice within the congregation of the Pauline Sisters and her Instagram bio indicates the places where she finds God, for example, rock music, video games, science fiction, and Japanese comics. Sister Allison summarizes the mission of her sisters united in the hashtag #MediaNuns, the media nuns in the following way: we use the web to evangelize and bring the message to the young especially, and make wise use of the language of the so-called influencers. The Media Nuns are active in the United States and Canada, and they are rampant on social media where there are no borders. Whether it is Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and even TikTok that is popular with the very young. They use all the paraphernalia of the web with impressive immediacy. These include stickers, selfies, memes, tweets, Instagram stories, YouTube, concerts, podcasts, webinars, and gifs.
We are on social media, so the style is obviously ironic. For example, Sister Bethany is photographed carrying a large statue of Jesus Christ with the comment “Since he says we should always carry him with us...I literally do”; Sister Julia eats a carbonara with gusto in the refectory; a group of sisters take a selfie during a coffee break. With the same spirit, twenty years ago they created a choir that performs sold out concerts in North America. For the first time this year, and because of the Covid pandemic, the Christmas performance was virtual. This represented an opportunity to put into practice the Pauline slogan, “Connect with God in the digital age”.
The Media Nuns know how to use the new social media language, including the fresh colorful meme aphorisms that invade our screens. Examples include, “Pray more, worry less”, or “What is grace? I asked God and he answered me: everything that happens”, writes Sistah-Tee-Letters using colorful, glittery markers as if she were a schoolgirl at her desk. The dazzling, adolescent images are always accompanied by profound messages, i.e. “You are worth the wait” is a reflection on the usefulness of waiting for the right moment, the right person, and the right opportunity without wasting ourselves. This is also a meditation on waiting for the arrival of Jesus in one’s life; “I believe that Jesus is worth the wait. If something or someone is so valuable, then we will not settle for anything less”.
The Media Nuns’ approach is not a modernist twist to keep up with the times, but rather the putting into practice of the precepts of Fr. James Alberione, who founded the Congregation of the Pauline Sisters in 1915, and then the publishing house of the same name. Alberione’s view was that “the press, cinema, television and radio are the fastest and most effective means of spreading the Gospel. Perhaps the future will bring even better means”.
In addition to using contemporary language to diffuse the word of God, the Media Nuns use the photographic narration of their lives. Combined, they dispel the old idea that a vocation is also the renunciation of sociality, the joy of friendship and the enjoyment of nature. Since the objective is to encounter the lives of those who are not reached by the grace of faith, the daughters of St Paul are not afraid to wear Carnival masks or clothes inspired by Tolkien’s saga in order to better blend in with the real lives of believers and non-believers alike. For one week a year, each of the Media Nuns gives up their perpetual online connection. “Going offline!” they announce before the retreat with no cell phone or wi-fi. A way to remind everyone that real life is elsewhere. “I looked back at my social presence the other day and thought my life looks so wonderful if we were to base it on Instagram photos”, writes Sister Bethany. However, “what you don’t see are the days when I don’t post anything. The hard days. We all have days like that, all of us. You are not alone, I am not alone”.
By Laura Eduati