Since the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) announced the suspension of religious celebrations with faithful in temples, as a measure to prevent the expansion of Covid 19, the communication commission of the Youth Pastoral of Havana (PJ) has been kept reporting through social networks. With a novel, engaging and professional work, your Facebook page and Your YouTube channel have gained followers on and off the island. After several weeks of social isolation, it is no exaggeration to say that this has been a time of work and creativity for Catholic communicators, especially young people.
Taking advantage of the goodness of WhatsApp, Palabra Nueva spoke with Father Jorge Luis Pérez Soto, advisor to the Youth Pastoral of Havana and with some of its members, including communicators Adrián Martínez Cádiz, Rachel Susana Diez Hechavarría, Manuel Alejandro Rodríguez Yong and musician Antonia Reicino. The exchange, in addition to deepening the work of the PJ, would in some way identify the opportunities and challenges that come to the Church in Cuba these new ways of communicating the Gospel, its Magisterium and the spiritual and social work of Catholic communities and institutions.
Communicate to zoom in
To the question of how the PJ conceives his work of communication, Father Jorge Luis responds with an important precision: “The word communication comes from the Latin communicatio which means, simultaneously, communication and communion”. As the former rightly states, it can be conceived as a fruit and demand of the latter. The communicative function is a medullary element of human existence and of any social and ecclesial group. Only from open, sincere and transparent dialogue is it possible to build serious and forceful projects with solidity and efficiency.
George Louis (PJL): “For me, as an advisor to the Habanera PJ, the greatest challenge, and not always sufficiently achieved, has been precisely to seek communion, the creation of bonds between young people and Christ, between young people and the Church – also institutional – and among them. All the external work of the PJ in communicative dynamism wants to be an expression of this innerr desire to establish communion. One of the realities requested during the Youth Synod and endorsed in the Christus Vivit is that the Church strives to present its message of Life, Salvation, and Hope in a language adapted to today’s youth, that is, that the Church be able to speak the language of young people.”
For her part, the young musician Antonia Reicino understands communication as an indispensable resource to remain “close to young people” and identifies on social networks “a good way to enter the youth universe”.
Antonia Reicino (AR): “This means that the PJ actively takes advantage of these opportunities and brings information, videos, images and more to its recipients.”
Rachel Susana Diez Hechavarría is a journalist; his face may seem familiar to us as he leads some of the audiovisual proposals of the PJ of Havana. It identifies communication “as a place of encounter and dialogue with who we are, with our ecclesial identity and, of course, with the social space that we inhabit”.
Rachel Susana (RS): “That’s what we use from those members of our communities who have an experience or training in communication, journalism, the media, or who express their interest in one of these branches.”
New Word (PN): Do you think that, to some extent, the Church in Cuba or Havana needs to rethrify its communicative pastoral work from other supports and discourses to encompass a wider audience in its mission to evangelize?
PJL: “Absolutely. Times change and new opportunities arise to carry the message of the gospel. It is not a question of delezing the above but of opening up to the news that can be vehicles for the transfer of faith. How many people can we reach on a door-to-door mission? ¿100, 200, 300…? We have, for example, Facebook posts that have reached more than 48,000 people. Of course, it is necessary to prepare quality materials that respond not only to the truth of the Faith that we proclaim, but are able to do so attractively and ‘with hook’. It is essential to achieve worked designs, dynamic and eye-catching websites, YouTube channels and Facebook pages with professionalism. I think that in this sense, and without comparison, our Christian brothers of other confessions have understood this very well. His presence in digital media and weekly packages is admirable, albeit with diverse production qualities. Another important point would be to know how to take good advantage of the possibilities sometimes given to us in the mass media.”
Although he is often implicated in productions from his holguinera diocese these days, Manuel Alejando Rodríguez Yong is a young Catholic, graduated from the International School of Film and Television, who also joins the communication team of the habanera PJ. While she considers what the Church has done so far meritorious and laudable, she says it is not enough.
Manuel A. Rodríguez Yong (MA): “Today reality is another in several ways, especially in terms of internet access and that brings with it opportunities but also challenges. We cannot neglect or stop enhancing what has been being done for years, which has also proven effective, but there can also be no denying or enhancing new (no longer so new) ways of communicating. Today there are many more people (and note that I do not mean young people only) with access to social networks or an email, so the various pastoral care should rething their ways of communicating. If you’ve never done that, this is a good time for it. Although communication is not a priority for our Church, it cannot be forgotten that evangelizing is communicating, so every particular church should see in any communication initiative an opportunity to reach many the Good News and the Magisterium of the Church.”
RS: “The influence of the network world in general terms is remarkable in all orders, and the traditional media does not escape, as it engages in a new dialogue with audiences that implies feedback that did not exist before. The public is no longer a passive recipient of information, but now collaborates with the growth of the communicative product. He suggests, debates, generates controversy, expresses his judgment, makes his ideas known.
“Conceived in the light of the Gospel, with a fresh, renewed and reasoned discourse, communication can be a powerful tool for the evangelization of an entire country. Let us think that in Cuba there are more than seven million users who exchange with the internet in different ways. Which accounts for more than sixty percent of the country’s population. This offers enormous potential for communicative pastoral care, for for decades there has never been such a tangible possibility to reach a huge number of people.
“There is no area of knowledge and practice of the Church that cannot be reflected or shown in its fullness through digital platforms. This could even have a deeper effect on those who do not approach the Church out of prejudice, out of disrecognisement, or because simply their approach to our proposal has been from a distorted or violated perspective by inherited and received formation.”
An expensive but necessary scenario
Updating websites, uploading information to Facebook, streaming masses live and having, for example, a YouTube channel where displaying audiovisual products means in Cuba a significant economic expense. In addition, connection speeds are often very slow by a number of factors.
PN: What have you done since youth ministry to be able to do this work? Where or in whom have you found support?
PJL: “Undoubtedly all the work we do represents an economic challenge. Some of the funds have resulted from investments we make from the annual budget of the Youth Ministry where we have a section dedicated to communications. In this quarantine period I must say that its use has been the minimum. To a large extent our young people have not only given their time but have also put their financial resources according to the mission of the Church, with the use of their data and connections from the public Wi-Fi of ETECSA. Once the work began, a group of friends and parishioners from my former communities expressed a desire to contribute and have helped with top-ups from the outside. It has been very beautiful and a sign of ecclesial communion. From all this I have a conviction left: it is important to invest in communications.”
Adrián Martínez Cádiz, the young ‘off-roader’ of the team, joins the conversation. His creativity surprises when it comes to audiovisual realization. However, it believes it appropriate to recognize as a significant expense the time that is voluntarily invested for the design, creation, production and delivery of each material in the networks. This work consumes countless hours that are often constrained by these boys’ need to meet their work commitments.
Adrián Martínez Cádiz (AM): “I think it is time to become aware and take seriously the communication of the Church, which would lead to the form of communication teams working full-time. Since communication is not a thing of a few minutes in the day, a logistics for communication should be thought of.”
RS: “It is an important economic expense not only for the one that makes the contents, but also for the one who consumes them, because it is already known that in Cuba access to the Internet carries great costs and deal with many technological difficulties”.
AM: “It is worth noting that according to our statistics, fifty-six percent of the reproductions of our content on networks are cubans within the island. That is why we consider distributing our contents in the weekly package, which will also involve an economic expense but, in this way, we make sure that it reaches many more people”.
Two prodigal sons
It is worth stopping in the informative magazine PeriJoreo and in the theme song Forward. In the case of the first, and in the opinion of the writer, an old debt that has been held for years with the Havana Catholic community. An audiovisual product that informs about the happen in our archdiocese and that has had very good acceptance.
PN: Have you thought that this child of Youth Pastoral can be shared or open to other collaborations? It would be nice if those involved told about this experience, the work that led to the conception of a final script.
PJL: “PeriJoreo is a much-desired daughter. For more than a year and a half we were shuffling the possibility of presenting a youth newscast on diocesan and national ecclesial events. For various reasons, including the celebrations of WYD Panama 2019 and its national replica, and the workloads we had had, were postponed. After contemplating the acceptance of our communicative products we said, ‘It’s time.’ A first point to be released was the format. A newscast wasn’t enough for what we intended. Besides, a monthly newscast wouldn’t have the news too up-to-date. We chose to work on a varied informative magazine. We are already thinking about various sections that will gradually take shape. We have had to face the challenge of working in anomalous situations with little chance of mobility. All the work has been done to the maximum custody of the health of those involved and respecting at all times the health measures oriented by MINSAP. The process of elaboration has been fundamentally through WhatsApp: meetings, scripts, videos, recordings, etc. We don’t have a technical arsenal developed. One day we’ll make a making-off. Even if it’s hard to believe it’s been filmed with cell phones and the PCs we’ve used are slow. All this also adds beauty: the satisfaction of knowing that PeriJoreo is the daughter of humility also in resources. Sure, we hope to get better. We’re looking for correspondents in every diocese, and that’s paying off, too. We are really satisfied with the final product although we are very critical of the quality of it. We appreciate collaborations, reviews and suggestions first and foremos s. PeriJoreo, like its name, wants to be an instrument of communion and is only built well with the collaboration of all. Our magazine was born anchored to the Youth Ministry of Havana and wants to be an ecclesial product. If in any future, for any needs, it must diversify or grow, PeriJoreo is not ours, it is of the Church.”
(MA): “Since we conceived PeriJoreo we had the desire that even if it was a product of the Havana PJ, we did not want to stay only in Havana. And so it was. It’s something we’ll keep betting on. I hope that one day the National Committee on Youth Pastoral will see in the programme an opportunity for it to become not a product of the habanera PJ but of the Cuban PJ. As for the creation process we made a group on WhatsApp and started debating. And those discussions ranged from conceiving the format, defining content to searching for a name, among other things. Having defined that, we contacted the people we wanted to interview, writing and rewriting the script and then recording it was also a red dot given the epidemiological reality. My situation made everything a little more complex because for now I’m in Holguin until the health situation changes. So I had to record with my cell phone and try to make, despite recording in the distance, seem as dialogueal as possible at times when both drivers had shared texts.”
RS: “Currently PeriJoreo draws on a network of correspondents associated with communicative work in the different dioceses of the country. Initially it was intended to be a newscast, but in conceiving it we realized that a magazine gave more creative and hierarchical freedoms of content. To this end, it was further thought that it could not have exclusively an informative nuance, but would allow it to provoke, suggest; show in its diversity the richness of the pastoral life of the Church. He had to have a pleasant and colloquial language, which served not only to attract young people, but also to reach all the people who today participate in ecclesial life, regardless of their formation. It had to have a diversity of proposals, approaches and it is already being conceived, a body of sections and information capsules that allow it to gain dynamism and professionalism.”
AM: “With PeriJoreo, not only the time and the amount of activities and jobs that the Youth Ministry generates played against us, we were interested in getting means for production. Means that we did not have at our fingertips, because the Church did not have them, because we have not always found acceptance and support for our projects. I believe that if today we have PeriJoreo and many other communicative dreams it is because there are young people who have not tired of knocking on doors, and PJ has opened them to us, and our advisor has been able to listen to us, understand us and join our dreams, becoming the one who ‘accompanies’ and next to us knocks on doors, wanting us to grow up and show the Church that we can be with young people as protagonists”.
PN: Forward is a hymn, a song, that comes in Covid19 times. It is also a product of the communicative work of the Youth Pastoral, but that involves other people, for example musicians… how is the idea of this song born and the making of a video for it?
PJL: “In the world a song has become popular: I will resist. It is sung everywhere and has become a hymn of the time we live. Some might accuse it as a lay song, almost “pelagiana”, that puts the emphasis on man’s own ability. I don’t go into these tests. There is a curious fact with Resistiré and is that, because of the recording made by several artists and that has gone viral in the midst of this pandemic, a significant sum of money was raised that the artists decided to donate to Caritas Española to help the disadvantaged. We, from PJ, wanted to, were looking for a song that we could work, that was not so lay and at the same time served for a wide audience. We thought of Color hope, but it was already very herd. Then, through the work of Providence, he came into our hands Forward, who without mentioning Christ speaks of an Someone who comes to us, who shakes hands with us, and who asks us to hear his voice. We thought it was what we were looking for and let’s get to work. The recording has been from very varied media, very few in studio. We accompany her from a video where friends from all over the world and cuba join us in a common desire: ‘Go through the dreams that remain and those that are to come.'”
AR: “Forward is an idea born of the joint effort of two of the dimensions of the PJ, the communication commission and the dimension Art and Living Faith, is last conceived to gather in it the talents of different artists of dissimilar manifestations, as well as the healthy practice of sport. Go ahead, song by Naiara Ruiz, aims to bring hope in the times so convulsive that we are living. Young singers from different parts of the country, as well as religious, gather in the effort to bring listeners a hymn that represents them, which gives them the strength to get on with their lives, their projects. The initiative to create a video clip is also a way to give visibility to the work we are doing from both dimensions of the PJ. Video in which young people from different countries who want to carry a message of hope collaborate in addition to the singers.”
MA: “In the video you can find a priest, a seminarian, young lay people as well as a recognized actor. It’s certainly been a song and a video where a lot of people have collaborated.”
AM: “Youth Pastoral is committed to reaching young people, not to be only recipients of the Church’s action, but to join in serving others. PJ wants young people to work in the Church, for her and for her, in evangelization, in charity, in formation, in art, faith, sport and in communication. We are committed to being integrated and in communion with the Church, not by subtracting, but by adding and serving. That’s why we also want to get through art and music. In these difficult times music becomes a message of hope, so it comes forward. In a world in which many give their message, the Church cannot be silent. This production wants to be a message of trust in Christ and in the future that we can have with Him.”
To do with Faith, is to do well
For years, the Church’s communicative work in Cuba has been crossed by empiricism. However, since attempts, publications, especially written, have been born with good acceptance. Today we have young people trained in Communication.
PN: How to combine spiritual formation and in faith, human formation and professionalism? Can we talk about a new moment in communications or new ways to communicate from the Church?
PJL; “God is good. At every moment it allows us to do the best we can by collaborating with his work. The Church of Havana owes immense gratitude to the efforts of so many brothers and sisters, and not just Catholic Christians, who have made it possible to communicate it. As you rightly say, today we have a group of young people with vocational training in communication who work for the Church with passion and desire, and who can still perform much more. Sometimes, as an adviser to Youth Pastoral, I have found reservations about young people and their ecclesial mission and commitments. Pope Francis also often censors intolerance for young people and the not enough possibilities that are given to them on a social level. This also happens in the Church, and I have seen it, sometimes, in the Church of Havana. In my view, it is necessary to bet on young people, to trust them, to form them properly, to unite to professional competence the depth of the life of the Spirit. All this is only possible from the unprejudged accompaniment of your processes. And if a young man fails, it won’t necessarily be because he’s young but because he’s human. You don’t have to be afraid to give responsibilities to young people. You have to be afraid to stay in the old schemes that, being good, are no longer enough. From my experience, in working with young people, I can speak of fidelity, dedication, sacrifice, pastoral and ecclesial zeal. I can also talk about limits and that is where we need the presence and closeness of those of us who have already walked a little more than them. Sometimes it will be with a tip, sometimes with a call for attention or even with a snooter. Always with the charity of the Gospel and with the respect that its people deserve, without agreeing with mediocrity but without falling into the phariseic perfectionisms, so that they too may grow and be able to reach the measure of Christ in its fullness”.
MA: “I believe that we are facing a new communicative moment within the Cuban Church. Today, unlike other eras, there are a large number of communication professionals (many of them young) in almost every diocese. And some of them with an interesting projection in their work, either independently, in alternative media or in official media. Many of these also work and collaborate with the ecclesial media. In terms of formation and specifically communication, I believe that SIGNIS has been taking steps in this regard for about two years and thinking above all of young people, so training has been enhanced for communicators also in the spiritual and the human.”
RS: “I don’t think there’s a new moment in communications. For the communication and journalistic work that has been done so far has resulted from a lot of dignity, even facing powerful technological and economic avatars; which has forced a rethink of ways of projecting communication discourse and has ultimately made a gain for the Church’s relationship with the contemporary world. It would not be right to use the term ‘new’, because for some time we have been working in this regard; and because empirical practices in relation to the internet are no longer as novel. What we could talk about is a wave of young boys, mostly from the laity, who have a committed and systematic task with improving communication work and spreading the Catholic Church. I think of those who today collaborate with Christian Life, New Word, Signis Cuba, Youth Pastoral… But there are also those who defend their stance and their experience of the Faith from their personal blogs, WhatsApp groups, websites, profiles or Facebook pages (associated or not with the more institutional sphere of the Church). These boys are also influencing their contemporaries to dust off the stigmas that for decades have marked the Church’s relationship with society as a whole.”
PN: Just as it is important to open up to new ways of communicating, it is imperative to open our creations to other communicators, share them, and foster collaboration. In this sense, have you been able to establish working relationships with other pastoralists or dioceses? Since the Youth Ministry have you collaborated with media outside Cuba?
PJL: “A constant concern, and in which I do not tire of insisting, is to be aware that we do not work for ourselves, we do not communicate personal ideas. Our communication is from the Church and is based on the spread of the gospel message from our identity as Youth Pastoral. That is why our platforms are open to collaboration and communion with all forms of communication that take place in the Cuban Church even if we do not share agreement on all the elements of some. Sometimes I sense a little dispersion and I think that’s due to the lack of a Communications Office that combines, orients and trains for Communication. The Cuban Church has qualified people, lay people and a priest, for this service and I believe that they have sub-employees. We receive a lot from others and bring our little grain of mustard to others. Personally, I am pleased to know that what we are doing serves as a motivation to others who are also entering this field of communications. We have also collaborated with various international authorities. That’s what young people themselves can talk to you about.”
MA: “We are always open to collaborating with the different pastoral cares and we have constant communication with several friends, also communicators from other dioceses of the country, so when we need some collaboration we almost always have someone to turn to. In the case of out-of-country collaborations, it has also happened. And to a large extent SIGNIS LAC and WYD Panama 2019 set a precedent in this. In my case, prior to the JNJ and during the realization of it, I was collaborating directly with ACI Prensa, sending them all the necessary information about the Cuban delegation participating in the JNJ”.
AM: “Our communication is not anyone’s personal project. Our communication is institutional, and our institution is the Youth Pastoral of the diocesan Church of Havana. It is therefore vital to be in communion with the archdiocese, and the entire Cuban Church, and its means. In this service, we have collaborated with various pastoral cares, inside and outside our diocese and our country. From the elaboration of posters, designs and communication advice, such as creation of audiovisual content, interviews and reports for institutions, congregations, pastoral and ecclesial and foreign press media such as Christian Life, New Word, ACI Press, Vatican News, the Dicastery for Communications, EWTN, FeTV, Latin American Youth Pastoral, Digital Messengers, AFP, Italian News Agency, Rewters, among many others”.
In his recent message for World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis emphasized that the history of Christ is not a heritage of the past. It deserves to be told, but at the same height. This time of physical remoteness has shown the Church’s need to communicate. The mission is always the same, only the supports change, they diversify, they expand. This is what these young communicators invite us to bear witness to from every experience the Faith that unies us, and which thanks to God allows us to remain different. The Faith that dignified and liberated.
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