VATICAN— While the COVID-19 pandemic led many Catholic dioceses and organizations to find creative ways to communicate the Gospel online, digital evangelization is not a replacement for personal encounter, the head of the Vatican’s missionary office has said.
“There are some facts of life that cannot be digitalized and cannot remain digitalized. We are corporeal beings. We need contact,” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said at a live-streamed Vatican press conference on October 21.
“As we thank the digital media for its blessings, let us not forget that … there are other intelligences that need to be developed,” he said.
The cardinal stressed that in addition to their digital savvy, young people need to also develop relational and emotional intelligence.
“There is a calling for us in the Church, to develop the other types of intelligences,” he added.
Tagle noted the limitations of some social media platforms. He used Twitter as an example, pointing out that with its character limit, “you don’t have an appreciation anymore of the complexity of context.”
He said that “a certain comportment of mind and heart” and intelligence is needed to generate trust again at a time when there is “a lot of distrust” in the world.
The Filipino cardinal spoke at a press conference for World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated in Catholic dioceses across the world this weekend on October 24.
“We need living witnesses. Those who, through their … witness of life through their quality of relationships, through their compassion for the poor, would give a living announcement of the Gospel,” Tagle said.
He shared an experience he had when visiting a refugee camp. During his visit, Tagle said that he was approached by the head of the camp, who asked him why Christians were doing so much to help refugees.
“And I felt like he was not only curious, he wanted to really know the secret of our sacrifice, of our love and compassion,” the cardinal said.
“The Holy Spirit used him to open the door, so I said: ‘Our Master Jesus Christ taught us to love everyone.’”
“And you know what he said? ‘I want to get to know your Master, Jesus Christ.’”
Tagle, the former archbishop of Manila, has served as the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples since December 2019. He is also the president of Caritas International and the Catholic Biblical Federation.
At the height of lockdown restrictions last year, Tagle said that the requests for Bible formation online through the Catholic Biblical Federation increased.
He expressed gratitude that the internet could be used as a tool to “sustain some sort of relationships” at that time when visits to family and parish activities were restricted.
World Mission Day — also known as World Mission Sunday — was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October.
This year’s theme is: “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Pope Francis released his message for World Mission Day 2021 on January 29. In it, the pope warned Catholics not to succumb to the temptation of justifying indifference on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions.
Speaking at the press conference, Tagle said: “A deep experience of Jesus leads to a state of mission.”
“It is not a mission that is just functional or pragmatic. It is an expression of joy and gratitude to the one who has done marvels for us and for the poor,” he added.
Each year on World Mission Sunday, a worldwide collection is taken in support of the Pontifical Mission Societies, an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the pope.
They include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.
“We have to share the Lord. We have to share the Lord that we have experienced. Yes, we have our personal experience of the Lord, but it is not for us to keep, to own. It is given to us as a gift to be shared with others,” Tagle said.
“The more we share the gift of Jesus, the deeper our faith grows. If we keep the faith to ourselves, the faith will become weak. And if we keep the faith only among a small group, it might become an elite group.”
The cardinal pointed to the example of many missionaries who were “inspired by their experience of the Lord to go out, to go out of themselves, to get out of their fears, to reach all the nations whether geographical or existential spaces” to bear witness as an act of gratitude to the Lord.
“So we are reminded this Sunday, this World Mission Sunday, that spirituality and encounter with the Lord is always missionary,” he said.
“And mission is always also spiritually grounded in an experience of Jesus, an experience that moves us out of ourselves, to share Jesus to all the nations.”