By Br. Alfonce Kugwa in Ethiopia
The digital media should be at the service of integral human development especially that of the youth in Africa who are the majority of the population in the continent. This was raised at the SIGNIS-Africa General Congress and Assembly held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3 – 7 September under the theme, The African Youth in the Digital World; Promoting Creativity for Integral Development. The digital age brings a lot of opportunities and challenges and the youth need to be guided in their interaction with everchanging media technologies so that they use them to better their life through improved creativity, sharing faith and finding solutions to socio-economic and political problems in the world.
In his opening remarks to delegates at the SIGNIS Congress, His Eminence, Cardinal Souraphiel Berhaneyesus applauded Church communicators in Africa for taking time to evaluate how the media can be used to improve the life of the youth in a continent riddled with conflict and poverty. He said the youth tend to be more confused if they are not guided in their use of digital media.
“The youth around the world are confused because of technology and the youth of Africa are more prone to confusion in their use of digital media and the church need to help and guide them,” said Cardinal Berhaneyesus, emphasizing that Catholic media professionals have the responsibility of forming the conscience of society for integral human development.
Cardinal Yesus stressed that if the youth are properly guided in their interaction with the media, they will come up with new solutions to some current and old problems that bedevil Africa. He said the youth are creative, possible agents and artisans of their destiny.
Bishop Lisane Chiristos challenged Catholic media practitioners to use the media to bring he grace of God by making them instruments of evangelization. He said there cannot be evangelization without communication and that communication is not just another activity of the Church but is at the centre of the Church’s mission and life. Bishop Chiristos pointed out that the new media has given the Church in Africa opportunities of preaching the Gospel widely and directly.
“Without communication, there can never be evangelization. Bringing communication professionals together gives confidence that the Gospel will be communicated to all nations,” he said.
Integral human development is about the struggle against hunger, poverty, unemployment, corruption and political strife at all levels of society. The involvement of the youth in the digital media will open up more avenues for dealing with these problems, promote transparency, demand accountability and introduce new ways of production of goods and services.
In a speech delivered on his behalf, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development in the Vatican, linked integral human development to the protection of the environment and equal distribution of resources paying attention to the needs of the youth and children. Cardinal Turkson called for promotion of creativity by the youth so that they bring change to the welfare of humanity.
He said: “Young people can contribute to the conviviality that cuts across borders of language, race and politics. They can breathe new life in every situation by their creativity and new ways of looking at things. Africa must be developed by young people.”
The SIGNIS-Africa President, Fr. Walter Ihejirika from Nigeria affirmed that the congress aimed at creating practical pathways for promoting the welfare of youth and children in the changing digital world. He stressed the need of building SIGNIS- Africa into a strong communication association capable of addressing communication challenges in Africa for purposes of empowering the youth. He acknowledged the presence of the leadership of the Church in Africa as an eloquent testimony of the premium which the church places on communication.
Ms. Helen Osman who is the World SIGNIS President called for digital citizenship and urged Catholic journalists to punctuate their work with faith and not fake news. She said the church was facing a crisis of credibility at different levels and the church media should help create spaces of witness though digital media.
“The purpose of the Catholic media is to inform and form public opinion in line with the Gospel. Catholic communicators should establish platforms of honest dialogue through the digital media,” Osman said.
Osman called on Catholic journalists to challenge the church to be accountable and transparent in its representation of Christ.
Bishop Moses Hamungole buttressed the objectives of the congress by calling for serious pastoral formation of Catholic journalists for the care of children and young people in Africa. He stressed that without proper training and formation of journalists on taking care of children and the youth, they cannot fulfil their mandate in protecting the interests of children.
According to Bishop Hamungole, the functions of the media are connected to the socialization of children. Therefore, pastoral formation of journalists helps them to pay attention to the needs of children.
The Congress also addressed issues to do with technological and cultural means in combating cybercrime in Africa, harnessing ICT in youth development and the role of SIGNIS Services Rome in the digital development of African youths. All member countries were encouraged to improve the structure and visibility of SIGNIS at local, national and regional level.