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The internet: an ecclesiological perspective

Internet cafe, Mega Qmart Edsa Cubao, Philippines, 13 Apr 2018.   Photo by Mike Taboy

We live in a period when it has become possible for people to communicate with one another instantly, no matter the distance. People can exchange ideas and experiences, thoughts and feelings, wherever they are.

They can engage in dialogue and conversation even if they live in different parts of the world. People can initiate, sustain, and deepen friendships even from a distance. They can even act together to further a cause and effect social and political transformation.

The internet has made all this possible through social networking platforms. Social communication is changing patterns of relationships and praxis in society and the world.

How does this affect the life and mission of the Church? What are the opportunities and possibilities that this technology presents?

A dominant ecclesiology promoted by the Second Vatican Council and the Second Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in the Philippines is ecclesial communion. The Church is communion in a state of mission. Ecclesial communion is based on Trinitarian communion — the indivisible and loving union of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The model of ecclesial communion is based on the Johannine image of the vine and the branches and the Pauline image of the One Body of Christ. It is, above all, based on the Lucan idealised portrait of the first Christian community that emerged after the Pentecost and recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Koinonia model is associated with the unity, fellowship, friendship, sharing and participation that characterised the relationship within each Christian community and between the Christian communities. Thus the early Church is understood primarily as a network of Christian communities, a communion of communions.

This is what Vatican II and post-conciliar ecclesiology tried to recapture. This ecclesial communion is to be experienced at various levels: in the home (the domestic church), in the neighbourhood in Basic Ecclesial Communities, the parish, diocese, regional and national levels, and at the universal levels.

The Church can therefore be regarded as a web of relations — a network of relationships.

For ecclesial communion to grow and develop, communication is necessary. Interpersonal, social and dialogical communication among the members of the Church can lead to authentic communion.

As early as 1971, the role of communication for fostering communion was recognised in the ecclesiastical document, Communio et Progressio, which states, “The unity and brotherhood of humanity are the chief aims of all communication and these find source and model in the central mystery of the eternal communion between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who live a single divine life.”

Communication among members is given priority to deepen ecclesial communion, “The Church looks for ways of multiplying and strengthening the bonds of union between her members. For this reason, communication and dialogue among Catholics are indispensable.”

Dialogue between lay faithful and their pastors is also an aspect of ecclesial communion: “The normal flow of life and the smooth functioning of government within the Church require a steady two-way flow of information between the ecclesial authorities at all levels and the faithful as individuals and as organised groups. This applies to the whole world.”

The document Aetatis Novae reaffirms the right of the lay faithful to dialogue and information within the Church through the use of the media of social communication as a concrete means of realising ecclesial communion.

“It is necessary to recall the importance of the fundamental right of dialogue and information within the Church … and to continue to seek effective means, including a responsible use of media of social communications, for realising and protecting this right,” it reads.

“This is a matter of maintaining and enhancing the Church’s credibility and effectiveness. But more fundamentally, it is one of the ways of realising, in a concrete manner, the Church’s character as communio, rooted in and mirroring the intimate communion of the Trinity,” it added.

The internet can, therefore, be a concrete means of communication that can enhance communion at various levels of the Church, especially at the diocesan, national, and universal levels. This was pointed out by the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in its document on The Church and Internet.

“It has a remarkable capacity to overcome distance and isolation, bringing people into contact with like-minded persons of good will who join in virtual communities of faith to encourage and support one another,” reads the document.

The internet can provide the technological means for realising the vision of the Church as communion. Through the internet, members of the Church can actively participate in the mission of new evangelisation and in social transformation that can bring about justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

The challenge for Church leaders and lay faithful is how to make use of the available social media technology and social networking to enhance ecclesial communion. This is what we have been trying to do in our efforts to promote the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities. Fr Amado Picardal (used with permission)

–Fr Amado Picardal, CSsR, is known for his activism and advocacy for human rights. He is executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

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