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COMMUNICATION
AT THE SERVICE OF COMMUNION.

1. The Communication we Need

1.1. The Church and communications.

The role of communication in evangelization has been stressed by the Church for some time. The Papal documents like Communio et Progressio in 1971 and Aetatis Novae in 1992 call our attention to the fact that the means of communication should be used in an effective way to spread Christian values.

In Latin America, several assemblies of the Episcopal conferences offer a good contribution to our reflection on social communications both inside and outside the Church. The documents of Medellin in 1968, Puebla in 1979, and Santo Domingo in 1992 are the most important and call our attention to the need for more investment by the Church in the formation of Christian communicators and the acquisition of new technologies or vehicles of communication.

In Brazil, the commitment of the Church to communications is reflected in the 35th Assembly of the bishops’ conference (1997) in its document The Church and Communications in the Third Millennium. One of the commitments make by the bishops is the creation of a communications team in each parish.

Before reflecting on how each parish could develop its communications program we would like to ask the following questions: What do we understand by communications? How can communications help the life of the people in our parishes and communities?

1.2. What is communication?

Without communication there is no life or relationship between people. From our birth we learn means to manifest our needs and desires. By communicating we learn, experiment, question, love and try to change what troubles us and propose new options. Communication is present at every moment of our lives: when we meet with other people (interpersonal communication), in community (group communication), our contact with large audiences (mass communication) and is present in our relationship with God. To be effective communicators we need to use resources that are conductive to the people we meet.

Interpersonal communication is to transmit a message through gestures, words, meetings, telephone, letters, e-mail etc. By group communication we mean what happens when we work with a group that has a defined socio-cultural identity and similar interests. In group communication we can use a leaflet, a microphone etc. Today it is possible to use telecommunications for distance meetings with people that have common interests.

Mass communication is used to reach a wider public that is heterogenic, anonymous and without any possibility of feedback. We can use TV, radio, the internet. These means are becoming more advanced to communicate more widely and quickly than we could do so personally.

1.3. Promoting Communication at the service of Communion.

When we communicate we need some feedback from others to know what they think, the information they would like to receive… It is easy to count the means of communication that promote real dialogue that culturally enrich people. In general, the mass media stresses negative events, accidents and tragedies for sensational reasons. John Paul II stated that the mass media can be used to promote the common good, but it also brings risks. According to him the media can neglect cultural diversity, make it difficult to promote critical awareness by promoting the search for pleasure or by ignoring reality.

One way to promote communication that is at the service of solidarity and the community is to stimulate people (groups, parishes, popular organizations) not to be mere consumers, but to produce and transmit information. We should think of forms of communication that have the input of the community and thereby give the community an opportunity to express itself and propose change. Good and ethical communication should reflect the expectations of people to promote change for the common good.

1.4. Communication challenges for the Church in the New Millennium.

The world is going through constant and rapid changes where the values of people, faith and life styles are extremely diverse. Not all change today is oriented to overcome social inequalities and injustices. Rather, inequality is becoming more widespread worldwide. This is one of the reasons why our mission continues to be more urgent than ever. Pope John Paul II in his letters: The Coming of the Third Millennium in 1994 and The Beginning of the New Millennium in 2001 asks the local churches to continue their mission with responsibility, translating the good news which is Christ into the language and culture of the people. We can facilitate the participation by all, because the Spirit of God is present in each one.

When we speak of community we often hear such expressions as: “it is not easy because here we have cliques”, “we don’t have the support of the community”, “if we do anything people say we just want to show off”, “and the pastor does not want us to do anything”. Such expressions reflect the fact that we are human and have our shortcomings’ like: fear, vanity and selfishness. Perhaps for these reasons we have to face the challenges linked to interpersonal communications in order to be able to deal with the task of group and mass communications.

2. A Community needs to Communicate.

2.1. Communication in parishes.

Research carried out revealed the central role of oral communication in parishes. The announcements at the end of mass, conversations with families, contact with neighbours, informal contacts, the time spend in the parish office are an excellent source of information about the Church and the parish. According to the same research, interpersonal communication plays a central role. It also showed the value of bulletins and pamphlets. The mass media (TV, radio, newspapers) still plays a modest role when it comes to information about the Church.

We need to value and maximize oral communication where we work as well as using other means to bring information to the local population. This implies that we must respect, value and listen to people.

With good planning, good communication helps to:

Give dynamism to the life of the parish, reach out to non practicing Catholics, makes the parish and its activities know to the public by using the mass media, support participation in the liturgy, contribute to the communication and relationship between the various pastoral activities.

2.2. Where to begin.

It is important to verify the effectiveness of communication within the parish. In this way one may discover that information is not reaching the parishioners on time or that the feast days, meetings and other events have poor participation or that there is no feedback reaching the public. In this case it is time to reflect on the causes of such problems and on ways to improve dialog with all involved.

Looking at the root of the problems, searching for new insights, reflecting on the resources available, the level of teamwork, reviewing the timetable and form of evaluations can lead to a communications project or plan. A good plan is based on the analysis of the reality and the contribution of all involved. Promoting communications is always a participative process.

It is not sufficient that a small group come to the conclusion that communication in the parish is poor and decide to create an informative bulletin to solve the problem. Such an attitude, taken without considering the proposals of other people and groups can result in a worse situation. It is not possible to mobilize the parishioners to read a bulletin which is not the result of a collective effort or responds to the needs of the community. Normally, whoever is not involved will not promote or support the initiative.

To promote reflection on the need to plan a communications project we suggest the following steps:

Observe.

We can invite people from the parish who have an interest in communications as well as representatives of the existing organizations and ministries for an exchange of ideas. In this way we are begging to form a Communications Team. The central idea is to invite as many people as possible to participate, give their opinion and decide collectively. The best way forward is that the pastor or those responsible for communications make the invitation organize the meeting and as a team analyze the situation in the parish. The analyses should be as wide as possible and reflect on important questions like the quality of the service in the parish secretariat, the relationship between the different ministries, organizations, services, the way of welcoming people, the animation and participation in the liturgy, the quality of meetings and the way to relate with non church institutions. The existing means of communication like a newspaper, radio, homepage, notice board should be evaluated. Research on what has already been discussed on the wider ecclesial and zonal level is also recommended. This should facilitate the task of coming to a conclusion and promote consensus in relation to a wider project.

Judge-Evaluate.

When communications is going well in our parish the reason for the success should serve as an example for other parishes. On the other hand, if communications is not going well it is time to convene a group to examine the root cause of the problem.

Some examples:

  1. Seeing the reality the group perceived the difficulty to edit the parish bulletin on a monthly basis because the person responsible did not have the help of anybody else. When it comes to make an evaluation it is central to see if the bulletin corresponds to the needs of the people. Do the people identify with it? Is there a concern to prepare people to help?
  2. The catechists are without motivation due to the poor participation of the children in their weekly meetings. Is it because the classrooms have few children? Is the classroom welcoming and comfortable? Are the catechists using a language the children can understand? What audio-visual aids are being used?
  3. Does information reach the outside public in the parish? Is anybody responsible for this mission? Does the person responsible have access to fax/internet for their work? Do the people involved have contact with professional communicators? Does information arrive in good time for publication?

By analyzing the causes of each problem raised by the team we will have a good basis to make the necessary changes. When we evaluate it shows that we want to correct errors and find the best solution possible.

Action.

A Communications Team that is just beginning should not try to do everything at once. It is important to plan each step. Without planning it is impossible to know what we really want. A plan will help the parish’s Communications Team to select the activities that it is possible to handle and obtain reasonable results. When the team is well organized, with some training and motivated by faith, time will create the conditions needed to take on more ambitious tasks.

To plan well we must reflect on:

What do we want from the Communications Team in the parish or community? This question should help define a mission statement or objective for the work.

What needs to be accomplished? We suggest that in order to start the Communications Team should choose a maximum of three activities that can be handled by the Team. It is also important to value what already exists in the community.

How to move into action: one must define strategies to help the Team put their mission into practice and obtain the desired results. To plan each activity we have to ask the same question: What results do we want to achieve? What is the specific aim of the undertaking?

Who will carry out the tasks? Here we can divide the tasks and decide who will be responsible for them. A time table and the financial resources available have to be taken seriously. Every plan demands ongoing evaluation. Regular evaluations are vital in order to correct mistakes.

2.3. How to develop the work.

To start a task is always the most difficult step, as time goes by the work will take shape and gain its own rhythm. Strong motivation and perseverance as the Communications Team begins its work is vital. The task of the Communications Team has its own special characteristics and its work permeates all other ministries, groups and services in the parish or diocese. Every Communications Team should be part of the parochial council. It will help to legitimize the team and guarantee the quality of the work and make it known and understood by other groups and ministries.

The place of spirituality cannot be ignored. Without spirituality, a faith modelled on Jesus Christ as the “perfect communicators” we cannot persevere and maintain the commitment alive. One way to promote spirituality for the Team is to reserve time for biblical reading, prayer and reflection at each meeting, as well as an exchange of experiences and ideas.

2.4. Examples of Activities.

Depending on the reality of each parish or community the Communications Team while being involved in various activities can animate the work of other ministries in the parish.

Communication within the Community:

We should emphasize activities like the preparation of the news bulletin, leaflets and the notice board, ushers who welcome people for the celebrations, announcements at the end of mass, improving the sound system in the church, training readers for the liturgical celebrations, posters, letters, banners, training for communicators, visual displays in available spaces, the promotion of cultural events, organizing a library with DVDs, videos, CDs, talks on communications. The use of the Internet and other new technologies should be promoted.

Communication outside the ecclesial community.

Not all ecclesial events need to be broadcast or made known to the wider community. Any activity that deserves special attention should be given due space and publicity. A basic task is to produce or edit news items, prepare people for interviews, create an ambiance that can be used for taking good photographs and filming. Other vehicles that cannot be ignored are community radio, local newspapers, outdoors, posters, outside loudspeakers, cultural events, catholic Web pages.

3. Communications for all.

3.1. The art of welcoming.

To welcome means to know how to receive people with a spirit of joy and by paying attention to what people say and help in such a way that a person can feel valued and comfortable. To reach out and welcome people is part of our Christian way of life. Whatever activity we are engaged in, we are obliged to respect and value the people we meet.

Parish Secretariat.

The parish secretariat is a privileged place for communication because people come to seek documents, information or the sacraments. A good welcome by the people in the secretariat and who are spoke persons for the parish and the Church is fundamental. The ambiance as well as the behaviour of the secretary should be coherent with his/her function and service to the community. When people feel welcomed it makes it easier for a person to return. It is not sufficient to have an efficient, educated and punctual worker. The person needs to be well informed. The person does not need to solve every issue that arises, but needs to know who in the community should be approached on certain issues, that is, where and when it is possible to find a group coordinator, the pastor etc.

How to improve one’s service?

The secretariat should be an attractive place, clean, organized and with chair for people to sit down. To be able to make people welcome, the secretary needs a sense of gratuity and availability as an evangelizing agent. To be able to serve as best as possible he/she needs the resources to be able to be effective: a well aired room, a computer, internet, fax and a good achieve. The secretary should also be well informed about the dates and time of events in the community like courses, meetings, celebrations. Therefore, the secretary should be in close contact with the various ministries in the parish.

The Communications Team can always advise the secretary on human relations, as well as how to produce a card with addresses, telephone numbers, times of celebrations, courses that will take place and the organization of the achieves. Such procedure calls for a regular meeting between the secretary and the Communications Team. It is the secretariat that receives suggestions, criticisms and opinions about life in the parish due to the conversation of the secretary with the people who pass by every day. The Communications Team needs to know what the community has to say. Research is important, but daily conversations are a source of information and ideas.

The parish residence/presbytery.

The person who normally works in the parish residence or presbytery should be well informed about the role of the secretary and know how to direct people who seek information or orientation.

Celebrations.

A warm welcome is essential for all celebrations – masses, baptisms or marriages. To make this a reality the parish can create a Reception Team. With the help of people who are prepared and available, it becomes easier to bring a sense of fraternity and solidarity to the community. The Reception Team takes part in the celebrations, welcome those who come, prepare and hand out cards that welcome new parishioners, visit the sick and the family of a deceased person. The same team can also be present in bigger events in the parish: meetings, courses. There are no fixed rules; rather, they are guided by the evangelic value of fraternal communion. Each parish has to discover the best way to welcome people. The Communications Team can help by offering workshops on group communications, theatre, techniques to avoid being shy or distant. It can also help to produce any printed material that the Reception Team will need.

3.2. The visual appearance of the ambiance.

The Communications Team together with the catechists, the Reception Team and liturgical team can be entrusted with the decoration of the church, the parish hall and the secretariat. The ambiance should reflect the message the community wishes to communicate to those who visit it. Those who decorate the church should be familiar with the liturgy. Places like the altar and the lectionary should not be decorated. The liturgical seasons should be visible and flowers are not used during advent and lent.

3.3. Posters.

A good poster should be attractive and contain only the essential information. The text should be short and clear and is more presentable with an illustration or photograph. Normally it needs to be printed and should indicate the copywriters or author. Posters should be placed in key locations. Good material is to be seen and not hidden in a corner. Whether it is a church, commercial area, school, bus stop or bar, the poster should be placed to the right and on the upper part of the space available. The experts say our eyes are first directed to these angles.

3.4. Pamphlets.

Pamphlets are a low cost production and are normally used to publish events or campaigns. They may have a photograph or illustration, but need to be easy to read facilitating the easy comprehension of the content. Pamphlets can easy be reproduced on the computer or photocopier, unless a very large quantity is foreseen.

3.5. The Liturgy.

The Communications Team can also collaborate with the liturgical and Reception Teams in order to improve the communication during the celebration: like the posture of the celebrant and assistants, how to proclaim a reading. There are also techniques to improve one’s voice and breathing as well as the use of the microphone. When the pastor and the various teams work in harmony can solve the difficulties that hinder an edifying celebration.

3.6. Parochial Announcements

Research has shown that people who participate in the life of the parish are the best source of information about the life in the parish for their friends, neighbours. Parochial announcements are essential because at times it is the only communication used. What do people think of the way announcements are made? It is common for the pastor to make announcements before the final blessing. However, what could be of interest to all becomes a source of distraction or whispers.

How one can improve

The Communications Team can help the pastor to find more attractive and efficient ways to communicate news items and announcements to the community. It is not necessary that the pastor be the one to make announcements. A recording could be used; projection onto a screen or one of the Team could give the announcements. The announcements can also be presented in video or representations. However, it is not a time for giving detailed or drawn out information so that people can easily remember what was said.

Priority.

The items to communicate should be well selected. Some should be published only in a bulletin, a notice board or a pamphlet, especially those that have dates, times, addresses etc. The information given at the end of mass needs to be clear, short and objective, like what is taking place, location, date and time. Explanations and motivations should be given only when really necessary. Priority is given to items that are more urgent and for each public (children, youth, and adults) one must think about the best way to communicate the information with words that can be easily understood.

3.7. Notice Board

The notice board is a means of visual communication. It should be simple, attractive and well planned. Even if the parish has a bulletin the notice board is still important because it can be updated easily. The fact that information is renewed each week can generate more interest and promote the habit of reading what is published. To stress that the bulletin is different, one can use a different colour each week. A notice board can be rearranged easily and should be easy to read by using big letters, short texts and avoiding complicated details. The use of photographs, special titles are also important. When it comes to services that are provided both the location, telephone number and the time should be included.

Content of a Notice Board.

The preparation of the notice board should be discussed by the Team. A meeting of the Team decides what and how something will be published. The layout and presentation will also be discussed. The ideal for a newspaper/bulletin is that it contains only essential information and has a defined format. In this way the reader knows the type of news to be expected each week: announcements, financial reports, services being provided, events, invitations, times of celebrations and the opinion of the pastor or from somebody in the community on present day themes.

Illustration.

One way to draw the attention to the announcements is to invite people from the community to read them. The person who speaks could give small headlines like: this week our notice board contains news about the situation of the imprisoned in the city/area.

3.8 Bulletin/Parish newspaper.

A bulletin or parish newspaper normally publishes news items, activities, and anniversaries and aims to favour the integration of the various ministries in view of strengthening a collaborative ministry and to make the activities of the church more widely known. Besides giving information the bulletin should also take into account the formation of the community by promoting human, cultural and ethical values.

To produce a newspaper whether it is a tabloid or in bulletin form needs to follow certain procedure. The first decision is always the type of publication that will be prepared. Only then is it possible to decide on its frequency, the content etc.

We should be careful that the bulletin is not the only reason for creating a Communications Team. A bulletin only has meaning if the community wants it. If the bulletin becomes more important than the content or message it looses its meaning of being a means of communication.

3.9. History of the parish.

By putting together the necessary information it is possible to write a history of the parish. At times we face the difficulty that there is nothing available in writing. The living memory of people, especially of the older generation, pastors who worked in the parish, catechists and other people who were involved in the life of the parish are an excellent source of information.

A general outline could look like this: when the parish began, how the church was built, the first pastors, the history of organizations and how the others communities belonging to the parish were created. According to the data it will be possible to organize titles and texts, while leaving space to write or comment on the present day situation. Other information that can be useful is a description of the ministries in the parish, how they function, when and where they meet, the names and telephone numbers of the coordinators and how one can become a member. If photographs are available they can be organized in a folder as part of the research material.

The patron Saint of the parish.

Another area of interest is the patron saint of the parish and the traditional festivities of the parish. The history of the saints associated with the community is always of interest. The material can be made available to be seen by those interested in the parish secretariat. Once the material is edited by the Communications Team it can be published in a tabloid or book format.

3.10. Courses on group communications.

The Communications Team normally comes together with the people concerned to reflect on the communication within each ministry or pastoral activity. The way to organize the meeting, the use of video, how to present interesting talks should be clear.

By using workshops the Communications Team can help each group to improve its communications and how to effectively publish the scope of their activities. The biggest challenge at times is to overcome the tendency to be self cantered and be ready to learn form others, respecting their ideas and differences.

What distinguishes our way of communicating as Christians lies in the value we give to others, the promotion of human and ethical values. This calls for ongoing formation for communicators, not only technical formation, but formation that stresses the values of service and a sense of community belonging.

3.11. Contact with professional communicators.

The Communication Team should give special attention to professionals in the area of TV, radio and local newspapers. In this way the Team will be a source of information on religious and Church issues for journalists that wish to be in contact with people from the parish. Another possibility is to invite professional communicators to integrate the Communications Team in the parish. Other options include special events for professional journalists. A good opportunity is the World Communication Day celebrated on the feast of the ascension. Since 1967 the Pontifical Council for Social Communications publishes a papal message for the date. It may be good to use such material at a meeting of professionals.

3.12. Radio Programs

The radio is still a popular means of communication that reaches people easily at home or at work. Making use of existing radios to present a parish program demands a transmission with quality and that catches the attention of listeners. Evangelization by using the radio is not to give catechetic. It is more to convey ethical values that give life and hope to people.

Some suggestions for a radio program:

  1. Target one’s audience
  2. Define which radio will be used, the day , time and type of program
  3. Define whether it will be live or recorded, the presenter, music and vignettes
  4. Form a production team
  5. Secure financial resources
  6. To make the program widely known in the area
  7. The quality of the program is vital to guarantee an audience and credibility
  8. The program should be interesting in order to capture the attention of the audience
  9. Guarantee the participation of the listeners
  10. One needs regular meetings of the production team to prepare the outline of programs
  11. Guarantee a systematic evaluation of the programs.

When there is a live transmission of the mass, the role of a commentator is fundamental. During moments of silence a commentary is important to avoid giving the impression that the program is off the air or that there has been a technical problem.

3.13. Theatre

Historical records maintain that theatre as such originated in Greece in the seventh century BC., based on religious rituals to the god Dionysius. Throughout the centuries theatre has been an important instrument for discussion and reflection.

The use of theatre or plays is positive means of communication during meetings, catechetic and celebrations. They can reflect an event, an important date etc. The first step is to choose a text and have the group practice it through group reading. If it happens to be a long text it may need to be shortened or edited. The space and time available will determine the technical resources required. It will be easy to determine roles and who will take the different responsibilities. Each person has to memorize his or her part and have several rehearsals to guarantee a good presentation. People have to be appointed as producers: lighting, scenery, advertising the event. The final rehearsal should takes place on the day of the presentation to check roles, lighting, sound and to avoid a sense of disorganization. It should have a professional touch.

DVD - Video.

Today in what we call “the image era in real time” we cannot ignore the use of video/DVD. Video helps to address topics with facility such as political, economic, cultural and religious themes. The video has to be well used; normally somebody should act as the facilitator. It should generate participation.

The Communication Team could promote a workshop to improve the skills of people who are pastoral coordinators, catechists, community leaders or educators.

3.15. Internet.

By using the Internet we enter the world wide web of computers and information that is offered as a huge library. Everybody who has access to such facilities can consult freely at any time and from any part of the word this facility. Any institution or company that wants to grow and be visible should use this technology that facilitates communication on various levels. A parish or diocese can create its own homepage. Using a homepage makes it easier to publish events, activities, photographs, history of the patron saint, homilies. People involved in the mass media also consult the internet. The Communications Team can create this service. More professional homepages need the help of specialists the make the best use of the homepage as well as making it user friendly.

The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? It is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world "the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim. (John Paul II, Message for World Communications Day, 2002, N° 6).

Conclusion.

Personally I learned to use such techniques while working in a parish. To be effective in presenting the message of Christ is central in our life and mission as SVDs.

Very often the mass media is concerned in maintaining its audience even when that involves ignoring ethical values and respect for moral standards. As Christian communicators we should use the mass media to promote truth and life. Therefore, our presence in the media should be well elaborated, guided by evangelical values and use accessible language.

I offer this reflection as a help to all SVDs in order to prepare them as best as possible to carry out this important service in the community. As coordinator for communications I am willing to help in any way possible to put these principles into practice and organize workshops to give life to the dimension of communication in our parishes and communities.

I believe that the proposals are viable and relatively easy to put into practice. We need to plan, act and evaluate to be more effective. If everything is carried out in close collaboration with the pastor, pastoral groups and organizations the communication should become more efficient and enjoyable.