We are all citizens of the digital continent. We already inhabit this universe with about 4.8 billion other users.
When we look at this huge continent where our young people spend each day of their lives, a fundamental question arises: how do we evangelise this digital environment?
The Church, through the Synod on Young People, faced us with this important challenge and the need to understand the dynamics of this environment, and the need to dialogue with its cultures and evangelise in this habitat.
“The digital environment presents a challenge to the Church on various levels; it is essential, therefore, to deepen knowledge of its dynamics and its range of possibilities from the anthropological and ethical point of view. This requires not only entering into it and promoting its communicative potential with a view to the Christian proclamation, but also giving a Gospel flavour to its culture and its dynamics”(145).
What does this challenge presented by the Church demand of us? It demands not only that we live there, but that we continue finding new ways for inculturating the Gospel in these new areopagi of our times.
An easy task? Definitely not! But, as inhabitants of this continent, we are already engaged in this work of cultural dialogue through the studies and many initiatives carried out by Salesians, educators and our young people.
The Rector Major, Fr Àngel Fernández Artime, in his roadmap for the next six years of the Salesian Congregation makes a very important request to us in our mission as Salesian educators and communicators of the young:
“Engage the Social Communication Department, at various levels, in offering resources and stimuli for a constant process of verification, updating, inculturation of the Salesian mission in the digital habitat where young people live, involving our universities in a network with other centres and agencies that more closely follow and study the transformations that the digital world is bringing among the new generations.”
As Salesian evangelisers and educators of the young, with Salesian Presences in over 134 countries and different cultures, we always seek to answer the great questions of young people and their reality in the light of the Gospel and the Church's teachings.
The Church, an expert in humanity, knows very well the importance of dialogue between the Gospel and culture and between religion and societies.
The Word of God, studied and understood more deeply, has always guided and enlightened us in our interpretations of new human and cultural phenomena. It is a fundamental starting point for dialogue with the digital universe and a sure orientation for our educational and pastoral mission.
I would like to suggest a joint study by educators and scholars of communication so as to continue to develop some anthropological, biblical and educational guidelines for our greater knowledge and security as we inhabit and evangelise the digital continent.
The World Communication Advisory Council, held online this month (October), involves reflection and sharing on some initial important questions for this study with the participants.
1) How can we express the gift of freedom to communicate which God gives to every human being, and take up this gift as responsibility and service to individuals and communities?
2) What are the sources of biblical, anthropological and theological inspiration for enlightening and guiding us in the process of inculturation of the Gospel in the digital world?
3) What educational principles guide us and give us direction with regard to the new challenges that communication poses for us today in our dialogue with the digital environment?
4) How do we identify guidelines for inculturating the digital continent?
5) How can we outline some horizons for our educative and pastoral work with a Salesian identity in the digital universe?
To answer these questions and many others about the inculturation of the Gospel in the digital habitat, we would like to continue a journey of study integrated with our practical experiences and the involvement of educators-communicators who work and reflect on the phenomenon of communication in the digital continent.
Don Bosco said, with much faith and great love for his young people: “for you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life.”
Our father Don Bosco knew very well that to work with young people it is fundamental that we walk with them and with the times.
Understanding how young people live and communicate in these times of great cultural change is very important for our mission today and in the future.
This is a fundamental mission for those who love and journey with young people!
Fr Gildásio Mendes dos Santos
General Councillor for Social Communication
Porto Alegre, Brazil, October 24 2020