• We must embark on peace communication – Very Rev. Fr. Alumuku
• Our theology should understand and address our problems – Bishop Etokudoh
• A remarkable deficiency in all our efforts is lack of synergy – Very Rev. Fr. Umoh

By Neta Nwosu

Very Rev. Patrick Alumuku, President of SIGNIS Nigeria has tasked Catholic communicators to promote peace in the country. Delivering his welcome address at the opening ceremony of national convention of SIGNIS Nigeria on Wednesday at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Fr. Alumuku urged Catholic Communicators to employ communication works that enhance peace building. The SIGNIS Nigeria President further stated that what Nigeria needs most at this critical period when it is facing myriads of challenges is peace building initiatives for peaceful coexistence. “We gather here this year to examine how the Church has used the means of communications in the past and present for evangelization in Nigeria. This will naturally lead us to a projection into the future and how and what we intend to use the means of communications to achieve in the years and decades ahead.

Peace communication

“The context in which we find ourselves today clearly indicates that if our work is going to be effective in our communities and in the future of this nation, we must embark on peace communication – or communications work aimed at peace building. With insurgencies, insecurity and ensuing social instability, this is what our nation needs most now, this is what our continent also requires today. We need to elevate and promote initiatives and people who are working for the peace, progress, stability and for a peaceful coexistence for the future.”

Cross section of participants at the convention

Promote Biblical peace; Nigeria needs peace

Noting that Nigeria needs peace like never before, he enjoined the Catholic Communicators to utilise Biblical peace and their capacity. “Jesus no doubt had our role in mind when he said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”. Biblical peace means taking action to restore a broken situation. It’s more than a state of inner tranquility. It’s a state of wholeness and completeness. This biblical peace is a state we can create and promote through our work in the media milieu in which we work. Today more than ever, Nigeria needs peace, Africa needs peace and the world needs peace. We as communicators have a great capacity to promote peace. We need to utilize that capacity,” he stated.

Contextual theologies

The theme of the SIGNIS Convention that was held from November 16 to 19, 2021 was “Communications in the Church in Nigeria: the Past, the Present and the Future”. Addressing the participants, Most Rev. Camilus Etokudoh, the Catholic Bishop of Port Harcourt and Chief Host represented by Very Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Hycinth Orlu-Orlu, Chairman, Diocesan Communicatons Board, Diocese of Port Harcourt urged the participants to take opportunity of the convention to explore better ways of carrying out their mission of using the means of Social Communication for evangelisation taking cognisance of the abuse and misuse of the social media.

He added, “It would also afford you the opportunity of doing theology in a land that is largely polluted and decimated by environmental challenges. I do hope that you would also begin to find some theological answers to some of the areas that need your prayerful reflections.” Bishop Etokudoh charged the Catholic Communicators to embrace theologies that are circumstantial, address the issue of fake news and make the most of the intellectual resources found in the Post Synodal documents of Ecclesia in Africa (1995) and AfricaeMunus (2009), noting that the Church of today is presently grappling with all forms of Political, Religious and Economic woes. “We know that our social problems to a large extent are products of disordered and misplaced priorities. We should intellectually proffer ways of addressing the problems of our nation that is drifting and sliding towards the precipice. Our theology should understand our problems and address them accordingly. “We are tired of transferred theologies that are not incarnated. We are looking forward to theologies that are contextual as well as acculturated in orientation. The theologies that we import should fit also into our cultural framework.”

CBCN Communications Chairman, Bishop Denis Isizoh addressing participants 

Utilising Post Synodal documents of Ecclesia in Africa

The Catholic Bishop of Port-Harcourt again charged the Communication professionals to implement the scholarly materials in the Post Synodal documents of Ecclesia in Africa (1995) and AfricaeMunus (2009). He said, “1 also wish to draw your attention to exploit the depth of intellectual resources found in the Post Synodal documents of Ecclesia in Africa (1995) and AfricaeMunus (2009). As you may recall it is eleven years this year when AfricaeMunus took place. Have you read and digested Chapter two of AfricaeMunus on “The world of Information Technology and communication”? “Have we implemented the recommendations from the Synod in the area of Social Communication? Let us look for ways of assisting the Church in Nigeria to effectively use the means of social communication for evangelization. I do hope our convention would not merely be a talk shop, but would remain a moment of deep intellectual harvest for the Church in Nigeria.

Tackling fake news

The prelate tasked the Communicators to tackle the issue of fake news. In his words, “In our present age of fake news, how are you working effectively to ensure that our people are not fed with fake news? How are you able to bring the right content into the social media space to enable the people of God have an option to the truth? “It cannot be overemphasised today that we are being fed with so much junk journalism and unverified information. The social media space is taking advantage of the credulity of our people. We cannot afford to remain aloof in the face of this dangerous trend in the social media space. Let me add that inaction and silence in the face of this malice that is killing our people, is culpable. I therefore challenge you to work more assiduously to save our people from being victims of fake news.”

Need for synergy

Speaking in same vein, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh, National Director of Social Communications noted that the theme of the convention is very apt considering the exigency to reposition the communications apostolate in the Church. He called for synergy between the various arms of the Catholic communications. He said, “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”. The Nigeria’s Catholic Communications chief observed that due to the lack of synergy, the Catholic Communicators have not realised as much as they should in the area of media apostolate in Nigeria. Continuing, Very Rev. Fr. Umoh stated, “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.” On behalf of the Bishops, Very Rev. Fr. Umoh appealed to the leaders of all the media organs, and their members, to eschew divisive tendencies and moves, and embrace synergy and collaboration. He charged the communication experts to work towards communion instead of division. “We recall that wonderful passage of Communio et progressio that says, “the chief aim 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”.

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 FundamentalisInstitutionisSacerdotalis, “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,” he stressed.

 

Social networking app for the catholic Church in Nigeria

The National Director disclosed that in line with the social communication’s goals which include the need to effectively launch the Catholic Church on the digital space, the National Directorate of Social Communications has commenced the building of a national social networking app for the Catholic Church in Nigeria under the name nigeriacatholicnetwork.com. “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.”

Bishop Denis Isizoh in a group photograph flanked by EXCOs of SIGNIS, CAEAN and CAMPAN with participants at the convention.

Coordinated media education training

Very Rev. Fr. Umoh harped to the need to actualise the Catholic Communications apostolate goal of a co-ordinated Media Education Training among all Catholics in Nigeria, and particularly among all pastoral agents. According to him, this goal is informed by the overwhelming importance of media education today for the mission. He said, “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 programmes 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.”

Annual Communications Week Celebration

Speaking further, the Catholic Social Communications chief disclosed that the Communications Week programme which the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has approved will help with media formation at the grassroots. “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.” He noted that this annual event 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,” he stressed.

SIGNIS structure

On a final note, Very Rev. Fr. Umoh charged the national body of SIGNIS to critically address the present organisational structure in SIGNIS, from parish level to the national, to sync with the known ecclesiastical structures in Nigeria.