A people who awaken to the information age and a Church that lives to communicate

Por: padre Rolando G. Montes de Oca Valero

A few days ago I found a post that said, “This 2020 I’m not going to be old because I totally didn’t use it.” He pulled out a smile and made me think.  This has been a tough year in many ways, however, for Cubans it has been an important step in overcoming a long informative lethargy. From this perspective, Cubans have used 2020.

The Internet, which comes to us in a slow process, and with often prohibitive prices, has filled people’s lives with a lot of texts, photos and even videos that tell the daily stories, previously unknown or just rumored, of Cuban society.

Social media has been added to the Internet phenomenon. So it has become common to hear the “Let me tell you…” usual, followed by a “what I saw on Facebook.” The Internet has meant the democratization of information around the world; something that also takes on unique reliefs when we talk about Cuba.

For decades the flow of information in Cuba has been determined not by the public interest but by the unique discourse of what “has to be said” and that viewers attend with the scant curiosity that may arouse “what they want me to hear or believe”. Now, on the other hand, we begin to experience what it’s like to contrast a news story, go to the source, ask ourselves “why they say it that way”; anyway, being protagonists, responsible, adults.

This informative awakening is a path that goes from the absolutism of undisputed information, to informational dialogue and digital discussions. With traditional Cuban media the information died in the “helpless recipient”, who at most commented a little around him without another incident. Now this recipient has a blank space that invites them to comment, reply, criticize or share, react with an emoticon or sticker, follow or block their interlocutor. It is possible to dialogue, replication, discussion and choose on what terms to carry it out.

In 2020 it was inaugurated for Cubans in the midst of the process that takes the step from information privatization to the democratization of this field. Before, reality required a professional to be told. Now everyone can post what’s going on or what they’re thinking. It is striking how many people and criteria would have gone “invisible” to the people on foot at another time, and are now, instead, known, supported or criticized, but existing and relevant. Yet they are, “turn to whoever you like and condolences to whoever weighs you.”

These are times when recipients are also a source of information, opinion, process generators, not just spectators but real actors in the influence of culture and society. In these times the “journalist” who wants to “cover the sun with a finger” or ignore what people consider relevant knows that he will have to deal with an audience that intervenes and reacts and that can forever bury his reputation as a “disinforming informant”. Thank God, these times are coming for Cuba.

The path has also gone from paternalistic censorship to discernment and personal responsibility. While we have had only one source of information, it is that source that has decided what the people see, what does them right or wrong, what exists or does not exist for the people. Now it’s everyone’s turn to be their own censor. It is personal to choose, because in the big network there is everything, and not everything does well. It is, as I said before, the passage into adulthood where everyone chooses and is responsible.

This step to diversity and informational adulthood is posing the challenge of learning to listen and respect disagreement in order to read about dialogue. It is the decisive step towards “knowing how to be” in these agoras where the most normal thing is that we do not like everything. Dissenting and respecting the judgment of others, as well as listening to the other to read about dialogue is a challenge as difficult as necessary, if we want our presence in networks and in life itself to be constructive and positive.

In 2020, one reality that aroused the illusion of many was the television broadcast of Sunday Mass. As a Church we have lived the eternal expectation of a permit to recover the radio and television spaces that were removed from us in the sixties. This permission was first, resoundingly denied, and then attended to with crumbs of sporadic and brief radial addresses for bishops. Although they were half an hour and very early on Sunday mornings, televised masses left many with the frustrated illusion that they could be maintained.

Beyond the spaces in traditional media, the Church was able to continue her mission, without violating the required social estating. For many Cuban Catholics, the confinement of covid-19 meant an awakening of evangelizing creativity on social media. In a special way, during the confinement several priests and some bishops broadcast masses on Facebook and Instagram. Similarly, groups of young people, marriages, lay movements and others came together on digital platforms to share and celebrate the faith.

The lead in this “new” presence of the Church in the networks has been held by young people. They have created Facebook pages and Youtube channels where they continue to broadcast masses, catechesis, news programs, moments of prayer and training, etc. But above all, they have kept an eye on reality to enlighten it from faith. They do authentic journalistic work exercised by people who, for the most part, are not professionals of communication, but who have their hand in the pulse of time and intend to respond to each challenge from the only specialty that should not be lacking: Jesus Christ.

There aren’t a few of them. In almost all Cuban dioceses there are organized or lay groups that, in a personal way, respond to the missionary demand of their baptism, and have decided not to leave these spaces without Jesus Christ and their saving message, where so many and so many continually come.

It is large and varied the offer of sites or pages that can be visited on the networks. Communicators of faith in digital environments know that they face tremendous competition, and they also know that they must present the gospel so that it is not “something else.” In this world of communications, where the fun and interesting catches the largest audience, these digital missionaries are challenged to make the important thing interesting, to present it so that everyone can come into contact with the fascinating presence of Jesus Christ and the beauty of his Church.

On this path the first thing is to be, and to know how to be so that Christ is. Digital identity is important and is formed not only with what we publish, but also with what we share, comment on and react to. Who we are and how we behave in networks is exactly equivalent to Christian witness.

We communicate with everything, with what we say and with what we shut up. Every behavior throws a message. Silences are sometimes necessary, but often speak only of emptiness or non-existence. In the digital world, if you don’t publish, you’re not, you don’t exist.

When from the Church, for fear of failure, we prefer not to answer a message or refuse to give an answer because it is complex or lends itself to misinterpretations, we let others tell our story and judge our silence, surely in a way that is at least inaccurate. Then we miss an opportunity to show who we are and who Jesus is, the ultimate reason for all our work. This, unfortunately, has sometimes been our mistake.

It is true that not everyone has an obligation to profile the networks and remain active, some prefer not to be and deserve respect. But for the Church there is no choice. The Church lives to communicate and make Jesus Christ unforgettable. Where his people are, there must be the Church with his Light and His Salt. The Church of Christ cannot afford a bland content that does not bring new flavor of the gospel, or that does not illuminate what is important to the people, let alone give up the space of reflection and debate, renounting her word that, faithful to Jesus Christ, will always be new. Evasion, no comment is often the worst comment.

It is very good that the Church in Cuba through the faithful, parishes and other agents is increasingly present on the Internet, but it is not enough. This presence needs to be of higher quality. As we said before, it’s not just about being, it’s about knowing how to be, about being relevant. It is a question of illuminating from the gospel what is lived today, of embodying the message, so that the text, the image, the video that the Cuban finds standing on his phone, moves him not only to give a “like”, but also to influence his real life, in his faith, in his behavior, that is, that he compromises. This, for the Church, is to know how to be in the networks.

In this Cuba where we interact, review and discuss in public, the existence of a communication office continues to be missed. The Church needs this instance to analyze reality with evangelical criteria and to develop the Church’s official response to each new challenge. We need it to help us not to miss an opportunity to make the Word of God present, so that it may express the feeling of the pastors of the Church without giving rise to ambiguities or biased interpretations that tarnish the beautiful mission of the Church in Cuba, so that, as a beacon, it may serve as a guide to those who, in the great network, want to make present the Kingdom of God.

This 2020 closes for Cubans in the midst of an informative awakening, for which not only do we all know more about everyone, but we share what we do and think as a people, which has inevitable cultural and social consequences. A new Cuba emerges. May our presence as a Church on the Internet and on the networks give that Cuba the Christian content it needs, so that it may be the happy Cuba that God wants and yearns for our people. Ω

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