In an era of information overload and constant connectivity, women religious are stepping up to meet the need for meaningful communication within the Church. Those women religious who have embraced the media apostolate have come to understand more than ever that they can no longer be confined to the sidelines, teaching in primary schools or working in hospitals — important as these apostolates may be.
The media play a significant role in shaping public opinion and influencing society. For far too long, the mission to evangelize was seen as the primary role of priests and male religious. Women religious, who incidentally were the first to receive the message of the Lord’s Resurrection, have been left to pursue auxiliary functions: i.e., helping priests evangelize, teaching catechism and so on. These are noble tasks nonetheless.
Communication as a valid apostolate
In a quest to spread Gospel values and foster dialogue between the People of God and the wider community, religious sisters now realize that media permeates all our charisms. To evangelize well, sisters need training in the use and consumption of media. This will help us communicate internally within our congregations as well as to communicate our message with the outside world.
Communicating faith, or the media apostolate, in the Church encompasses using various media platforms, including the traditional ones of print and broadcast, and new ones such as social and digital media to disseminate the Gospel, the teachings of the Faith, and other values. The media apostolate allows women religious to express their faith in a different way from men. It gives us a unique opportunity to influence society through a wider audience.
Traditional media and social media are today’s Areopagus, as described by Pope Saint John Paul ii in Redemptoris Missio, no. 37. Sisters need to step up to the plate. So, what better place to start the training than within the Father’s house, in the Church? The Church already has many competent institutions and persons trained in communication.
Recognizing the signs of the time: the Pentecost Project
Recognizing the importance of effective communication in today’s society and responding to the needs of the time, the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, in collaboration with the Hilton Foundation, has seen fit to enhance and empower the communication skills of women religious, and to promote media skills and literacy through the Pentecost Project.
Under this initiative, religious congregations are encouraged to allow their members to explore and train in media and journalism through an online mini-course in communication specifically designed for women religious, or by sending individual sisters to its Vatican News/Vatican Radio headquarters for a 3-month internship. In exercising new skills through hands-on apprenticeship, we, religious sisters, start to develop the art of storytelling and journalism, to more effectively convey our faith.
Media training essential in formation of women religious
Beyond what the Dicastery is doing, I think there should be some place for this kind of formation or training for young sisters. Indeed, it is heartening to know that some Congregations of women religious have incorporated media courses as part of their formation process. In any case, most young vocations entering religious life today are already media savvy by the time they present themselves for formation as sisters. Religious life should surely let these talents shine, mould them, and imbue Gospel values into the candidates.
Changing the narrative
As a result of their apostolates in schools, the health sector, and social services, women religious are often at the frontline of what is happening in society. Ensuring that the media apostolate is also part of our evangelizing mission as sisters, codifies what we already have been dealing with in practice. Religious women have honed their storytelling skills in many classrooms and catechetical classes. The emergence of the media apostolate for women religious is also a response to the growing need for accurate and reliable information in a world saturated with fake news and misinformation.
The media apostolate is a calling like any other. In this case, media practitioners who are women religious are called to share the beauty of God’s truth, countering fake news with the truth, and hopefully countering trolls with messages of love and redemption. Ultimately the media apostolate is about communicating God’s Truth and passing it on to others.
Bringing our faith to public discourse
In conclusion, the role of religious women in the media apostolate goes beyond simply conveying information. As people who live community lives, we have the unique possibility of fostering a sense of community and solidarity in the world at large. The media apostolate enables us to bring about positive change by ensuring that the values of our faith and life are present in public discourse.
By Sister Georginia Chidalu