YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A leading African bishop has warned that the Church on the continent must go digital if it wants to cope with what he described as a 21st century “Babel mediascape with no gatekeepers.”
“The Church in Africa would do well to come to terms with the fact that linear media models that allowed for more centralized and regulated government control were over,” said Bishop Bernardin Francis Mfumbusa of Kondoa in Tanzania.
Mfumbusa said that the era in which the Church could control the flow of information, through instruments such as the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur – both certifications that a publication is a free of doctrinal or moral error – is over.
“It is in this media environment of fake news; misinformation and doxxing that a revitalized CEPACS will need to find its place,” he said, referring to the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications, which recently marked its 50th anniversary during a conference in Lagos, Nigeria.
In the argot of the digital world, “doxxing” refers to revealing personal information about someone online, such as their real name, home address, workplace, phone, financial, and other personal information.
Mfumbusa warned that today’s media climate is now dominated by “the young, sometimes untrained Influencers and content creators.” In that context, he said the Church must develop its own laity, Priests and Sisters “who are conversant with programming and have coding skills.”
“Increased cooperation and guidance with young Catholic influencers could also be explored,” he said.
Bishop Lucio Andrice Muandula of Xai-Xai in Mozambique explained that digital communication technologies have changed learning processes as well as the perception of time, space, bodies, and interpersonal relationships.
“Whether we call the new digital forms of media an ‘environment’ or a ‘culture,’ the fact remains that it offers the Church both a powerful tool and an opportune moment for promoting inclusivity and enhancing an ecclesial outreach to members of the Church who feel marginalized, especially in Africa,” he said.
Muandula said millions of young people in Africa are currently finding solace in digital communication amid a sea of governmental dysfunction, economic hardship, cultural alienation, and social unrest, including violence and conflict.
He challenged the Church to harness the media to reach out to Africa’s youth in new and innovative ways.
Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Cameroon complained that many “dioceses in sub-Saharan Africa still have to arise from the lethargy which is not alert to what is happening in the media world.”
“There are many priests and bishops who are not on Facebook, Twitter (X), WhatsApp and other new media platforms,” he said, adding that clerics could get assistants to manage their social media accounts if they are too busy.
“We don’t necessarily have to do everything ourselves,” Nkea said.
He challenged the Church in Africa to equip members of the clergy and women and men religious with digital skills in order to enable them to take up the apostolate full time.
“Today, we need priests and religious who are well-trained media specialists and who are given full-time ministry,” Nkea said.
The President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Congo, said it’s impossible to imagine evangelization in Africa without at the same time thinking of communication.
“Unfortunately, Africa’s presence is not really felt in terms of communication. We are an important institution, but in terms of communication, in terms of visibility, we risk being marginalized if we do not ameliorate our communication system,” he said.
As a way forward, Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria, the president of CEPACS, underscored the need to rekindle the interest of the Church in social communications for evangelization.
“We are looking forward to a revamped, strengthened, and localized CEPACS with a clear, defined agenda with a context-based goal, vision, and mission shared and driven by the regional bodies and advanced through all the national conferences,” Badejo said.
“The Church in Africa is poised to contribute significantly to the universal Church, by using the media to reach and affect the whole of society of Africa and beyond,” he added.
CEPACS was set up by SECAM 50 years ago to promote authentic communication through the media.
“Over the last 50 years, you have played an essential role in amplifying the social teaching of the Church on the continent, ensuring that the Gospel is heard on a global scale,” reads part of the message signed by Ambongo on behalf of SECAM.
“Your commitment to promoting authentic and meaningful communication is a testament to your dedication to creating positive change,” he said.
Ambongo said the anniversary “marks half a century of dedicated service and commitment to advancing social communications in Africa. Your tireless efforts in fostering communication, promoting the doctrine of the faith, and facilitating the exchange of ideas within the Church-Family of God in Africa, have contributed immensely to the growth and development of our Christian communities.”