Special Address of the National Director of Social Communications,
Very Rev Fr. Dr. Michael Nsikak Umoh,
Presented at the SIGNIS NIGERIA CONFERENCE Held in CIWA, Port Harcourt from 16th to 19th November, 2021.
• Rector of CIWA
• Professor Joseph Faniran
• The HOD of CESACC
• All CESACC & CIWA Professors/Lecturers
• All our special guests
• Communications Directors for Dioceses & Religious Congregations
• President, SIGNIS Africa
• President, SIGNIS Nigeria & Exco
• The Presidents & Excos of CAMPAN & CAEAN
• Students of CESACC & CIWA
• All participants
b. Welcome /Greetings
Very warm greetings to you all, as I add my voice in warmly welcoming you to this important and significant convention. Yes, it is important and significant to me because it is the first time I am meeting with the general body of Catholic media practitioners in Nigeria since, as it pleased God, I assumed office as the National Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja. It is therefore a very special opportunity to make myself available to you, meet with you and listen to you as individuals and in your respective formations. It is also a wonderful opportunity to thank many people who have been working very hard, some in very tough terrains and conditions, to grow and sustain the media apostolate in our Church in Nigeria.
More importantly, this opportunity allows me share with this great assembly the mind of the Catholic Bishops concerning the communications apostolate in Nigeria, which is encapsulated in the vision of the National office. We all will need to own and key into this vision for the advancement of the communications apostolate in Nigeria.
My dear media colleagues, permit me, at this point, to thank first of all, my Bishop, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, for graciously releasing me for this national assignment, and the CBCN through the Admin board for appointing me to serve in this capacity. I thank our Bishop Chairman for Communications, Most Rev. Denis Isizoh, for the enormous sacrifice he always makes to be present with us, for his guidance, and for the good representation before the Bishops.
Of great significance, it is wonderful to be back to CIWA, Port Harcourt, the home of my media formation, my Alma Mater. Considering the remark in the document The Church and the internet that, “the Church would be well served if more of those who hold offices and perform functions in her name received communication training,” you will agree with me that CESACC Community assumes special relevance in the mission of the Church as the engine room for the development of Pastoral Communications in Nigeria. Bishop Denis Isizoh will attest to how proud I am of being a product of CESACC in CIWA and how readily I grab every opportunity to promote CIWA and particularly CESACC before the Bishops. I wish to reiterate here in unambiguous terms that I am very proud to be, not just a product, but the number one brand ambassador of CESACC, CIWA. On that note, and on behalf of all products of CESACC, please join me in saluting our foremost mentor in Pastoral Communications, Very Rev. Fr. Professor Robert White. We all, and the Catholic Church in Nigeria, are highly indebted to him for the development of Pastoral Communications in our country. I am pleased to inform you that we are already making plans to bring him back to Nigeria by May next year to honor him. Our unreserved respect also goes to our dear Acting Rector of CIWA, Very Rev. Fr. Professor Jude Asanbe, our pioneering Professors Msgr. Joseph Faniran and Fr. Walter Ihejirika (now the SIGNIS-Africa President).
With our Bishop Chairman, we rejoice with and congratulate all CESACC lecturers who were recently promoted by the CIWA Governing Council at their 82nd meeting as reported in the “ACTA” released on 4th November, 2021. On that note, our indefatigable HOD, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Inaku K. Egere was promoted from Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor, while Sr. Dr. Elizabeth Titilayo Aduloju and Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Evaristus Chuma Nnamene were promoted from Lecturer II to Lecturer I. I wish to let you know that your progress is our joy and a great indicator of the growth of Pastoral Communications in Nigeria. Please keep up the good work, as we pray God’s constant blessing and reward for your sacrifices. We also felicitate with Sir Soji Olagunju, the founder and Chairman of Lumen Christi Television Network on his recent conferment as a Knight of St. Gregory the Great (KSG) by the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. It is definitely a well-deserved honour.
e. Our Directors and Leaders of Media bodies in Nigeria
Let me also thank all our Directors for their cooperation and support in this past one year. There are some who have been very spectacular, making time to brainstorm with us and contribute very meaningfully to the ongoing conversations on how best to reposition the media apostolate in Nigeria. May God bless you all. It is necessary at this point that we remind ourselves that an important function of the national communications office is to define a vision for the work of communications in the Church in Nigeria, as well as to guide and assist every diocese and media body to realise their purpose by keying into the general vision approved by the Bishops.
We thank the leadership of CAMPAN and CAEAN for taking the lead in organizing very successful national conferences within the year. It is worthy of note that these two bodies sought direction and planned their programmes with the national office from the beginning and all the way.
The SIGNIS Nigeria has also followed suit with this programme which already promises to be enriching and successful. That is how it should be. At the minimum, the planning of any programme that has a national outlook should start with a dialogue with the National Director so as to jointly determine the date, the venue, the theme, the resource persons and what have you. The reasons are obvious and we appeal to everyone to kindly embrace and maintain this standard procedure.
f. The Theme of our Convention and the need for a Media Use Policy
Going further, the chosen theme of this convention is, “Communications in the Church in Nigeria: the past, the present and the future”. I consider this very apt as there is obviously an urgent need to review in order to reposition the communications apostolate in our Church. If the ugly truth is to be told, you will agree that there is much more that needs to be done regarding communications in our Church than we are presently doing.
A remarkable deficiency in all our efforts is a lack of synergy. Without prejudice to the content of the paper scheduled to address the present and future concerns of communications in the Church in Nigeria, a paper which we eagerly look forward to, confident that it will enrich the on-going initiatives, the national office has come up with a defined vision or a communications road map for the Catholic Church in the country. This has been shared with the Directors of Social Communications, and at the national gatherings of CAMPAN and CAEAN members during the year.
Though some of SIGNIS members were present at these other events, it is proper that I seize this opportunity to once again share this vision at this more embracing forum. Additionally, one of the areas the national office urgently seeks contributions in is towards building a media use policy for the Catholic Church in Nigeria. I wish we can somehow touch on this overdue necessity in our deliberations at this gathering. As a concrete way forward therefore, on behalf of the CBCN, may I humbly request CESACC Community led by the HOD, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Inaku Egere to kindly facilitate this task on our behalf and please submit the first report to the National Office by 30th June, 2022. I appeal that we all cooperate with CESACC if and when we are called upon, as we assure our noble institution of the full support of the National Directorate for a prompt and successful delivery on this assignment.
g. Our Vision and Goals for Media Apostolate for the Church in Nigeria
Our vision is, “To develop an integrated, effective and efficient communications structure for the Catholic Church in Nigeria” (IEES Project).
‘Integrated” is very key here, and it cannot be possible without the spirit of collaboration. Our revered Professor White always harped it on us that “media work is team work”. A major reason we have not achieved as much as we should in the area of media apostolate in Nigeria is the lack of synergy in our efforts. Thus, by this vision, it is our desire to commence building of a formidable and well synergized media structure for the Catholic Church in Nigeria. On this note, may I humbly appeal to all of us to kindly take this very seriously to heart. Our individual efforts will come to naught unless there is a healthy interface among the various units. The need for a healthy communications system/structure has become more necessary now than ever before in our country Nigeria.
• Our Goals
There are two major goals presently guiding our actions. They are:
i. To effectively launch the Catholic Church on the Digital Space by creating a mega dynamic and highly interactive Social Networking App on IOS and Android, both of which are compatible with the Web. This underscores the need for our own social networking app in order to foster our presence on the digital space. Towards this end, we have already commenced the building of a national social networking app for the Catholic Church in Nigeria under the name nigeriacatholicnetwork.com.
Please search it and you will discover that this app is already functional, though hopefully to be launched on the play and apple stores in January, 2022. It is a very rich and versatile app, and a one stop data and converging point for almost everything that concerns the Catholic Church in Nigeria. Diocesan Directors have been introduced to take control of their Diocesan platforms on the app and we are now calling on the different media organs, SIGNIS, CAMPAN and CAEAN at the different levels to key into this App and take control of their platforms. Need I mention that CESACC stands to gain a lot by being part of this App because it is one App many Bishops and even the Nuncio is connected to. NCN is the number one official media channel of the Catholic Church in Nigeria.
ii. To develop a system that will facilitate a Co-ordinated Media Education Training among all Catholics in Nigeria, and particularly among all pastoral agents. This goal is informed by the overwhelming importance of media education today for the mission. The document, The Church and internet says, “People in leadership positions in all sectors of the Church need to understand the media, apply this understanding in formulating pastoral plans for social communications together with concrete policies and programs in this area, and make appropriate use of media.” Media education is key. Already, in collaboration with the Pastoral Agents Department at the CSN, we have started working on a syllabus for media education in all our major seminaries. “If students for the priesthood and religious in training wish to be part of modern life and also to be at all effective in their apostolate, they should know how the media work upon the fabric of society and the technique of their use.” (C & P, # 111) This syllabus for seminarians will extend to all ecclesiastical formation centers and our schools. The Communications Week programme which the CBCN has approved will help with media formation at the grassroots. Let me present that now.
ANNUAL COMMUNICATIONS WEEK CELEBRATION:
Dear friends, the “Communications Week” programme, by God’s grace, will be an annual event in the Catholic Church in Nigeria. The maiden edition will hold from 22 to 29 May, 2022, and will be based on the already chosen theme for the Holy Father’s World Communications Day message, which is simply “LISTEN”. A think tank committee is presently working on the modality and contents of this programme which I believe should be a source of great joy to all well-meaning Catholic media professionals, because instead of celebrating alone as we have been used to, the communications week celebration will now embrace the entire Church/parish community. It also opens the vista for developing media culture in our Church through grassroot media formation of priests in training and the huge number of Christ’s faithful in our parishes. Without any doubts, you all as stakeholders in pastoral communications have enormous roles to play towards the success of this revolutionary programme.
The beginning may be rough and slow, but we are confident that we are set on a great cause, and by God’s grace, it can only keep getting better by the years. I know we can count on your support and collaboration to guarantee its success.
h. Synergy among media organs of the Church
On behalf of our Bishops, I wish to strongly appeal to leaders of all our media organs, and to all of us, to eschew divisive tendencies and moves, rather let us always seek synergy and collaboration. As communication experts, we must manifest this by working towards communion instead of division. We recall that wonderful passage of Communio et progressio that says, “the chief aims of all communication is the unity and brotherhood of man, rooted and modelled in the central mystery of the eternal communion between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (#8 ). At the very foundation, it is important that each media body and personnel is honest about who they really are in relation to other bodies and in relation to the national office. Not only because we are communicators, but also because we are Christians, there is the need for mutual respect of our persons, our offices and our functions as a basic condition for an effective and functional system. Talking about unity, it was Pope John Paul 11 who said “to believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity” (Ut Unum Sint, # 5).
Brothers and sisters, we cannot be partakers of one of this very important organ of the Church and yet refuse to desire the Church. According to Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, “good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity.” May I therefore challenge all of us to this positive and Christian attitude, so as to avoid acrimonies as much as possible and allow room for real media initiatives that will bring about meaningful progress in our work and in the Church. Please do not jump over lawfully established structures, persons and positions. It is in this way that we can really grow the media apostolate in Nigeria. A maxim comes to mind in this regard: “You cannot omit me and commit me.” Let us note this in our relations with the national office: if we choose to bypass the national office, we may as well choose to deny ourselves the needed support of the office.
i. On Grant Application
Among other things, many people have expressed the difficulty encountered with the new online form for applying for the SIGNIS grant. Also, many applications were not granted, while the very few that were granted were seriously slashed. In my discussion with the National PMS Director, funds are scarce for now due to the global economic downturn. I hope Professor Walter will have time to address us on issues concerning processing of grants since we still have few weeks to the close of the portal. No matter the difficulties, I still appeal to you all to explore this opportunity to seek funds for your work; nothing good comes easy. However, be reminded of the instructions from the PMS Director that the planning and execution of all projects funded by the Propaganda Fidei must involve the National Director who needs to append his signature in your reports. Let us faithfully execute our projects and report promptly so that we are not blacklisted.
j. SIGNIS structure
May I request the national body of SIGNIS to critically address the present organizational structure in SIGNIS, from parish level to the national, to sync with the known ecclesiastical structures in Nigeria. Please promptly let the national office know what you finally come up with. Thank you.
In conclusion, may I once again thank our entire LOC members led by Very Rev.Fr. Dr. Gerald Musa, thank our resource persons for accepting to come and share their thoughts with us, thank you all for the enormous sacrifice made to be here, thank CIWA and CESACC for easing the burden of this hosting. May God grant us a very fruitful and peaceful time here. And when this programme is over, may he lead us home safely. Amen.
Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you all.