In pastoral letter, Bishop Burbidge urges effective communication of the Gospel

At a time when all people are yearning
for a message of hope, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge wants the church to be ready
to use all manner of media to proclaim the Good News. In his pastoral letter released
Sept. 14, “In Tongues All Can Hear: Communicating the Hope of Christ in Times
of Trial
,” Bishop Burbidge extols the importance of communicating wisely,
especially when using digital media.

As soon as Jesus tasked the apostles
with making disciples of all nations, the challenge of effectively communicating
that salvific message began. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles
the ability to speak the languages of those around them, bringing thousands to
knowledge of God. St. Paul, notes Bishop Burbidge in the pastoral letter, was a
master missionary and communicator. “From a great social distance and in an age
where communications were defined by delay, St. Paul forged communities of
great spiritual closeness,” he said.

The current age is characterized by an
upending of the communications world, said Bishop Burbidge. “From the days of
the Sermon on the Mount through the invention of the printing press and on to
radio and television, the dominant means of communicating looked remarkably
similar,” he said. “It was the few talking to the many. But then came the
digital revolution.”

The democratization of media through
websites, social media and other digital platforms has remarkable potential for
spreading the Gospel, he said. “With the press of the button, one could
potentially have an audience larger than any St. Paul could have reached in his
day,” said Bishop Burbidge. But the dangers of “trolling,” “cyber bullying” and
“fake news” also have materialized in the wake of this revolution, as well as
the temptation to substitute digital interactions with in-person ones.

As people have been compelled to physically
distance from one another during the coronavirus pandemic, the church has
relied on communications as never before, particularly using livestreamed
Masses as a way to bring people together in worship. Though often apart, the
church always remained united in Christ, said Bishop Burbidge.

“The Holy Father modeled ways to unite
us in prayer,” he said, including the livestreaming of his daily Masses. “Most
famously, the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi message
and blessing on March 27 of this year, when the world was riveted on his lone
figure in rainswept St. Peter’s Square, as he rebuked the darkness and
challenged all of us with the words of Christ: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no
faith?’ ”

During this time, Catholic communicators
used the tools at their disposal to inform people about their communities while
always proclaiming the hope found in Christ. “Everywhere, Catholic media
continued to unite us by telling the stories of heroism and of great need,
inspiring, and encouraging others to act,” said Bishop Burbidge.

The Bishop sees the explosion in new
media avenues as a “21st century Pentecost,” with the same opportunities for
spreading the Gospel to new ears as Pentecost was all those centuries ago. “Social
media networks have sprung up in parishes around the world. Ways to connect
those confined to home in our communities, those isolated by infirmity or age,
are suddenly plentiful,” he said. “Homilies, spiritual reflections and rituals
can now be shared with a potentially much larger community, including those who
do not know us or worship with us.

“This is a powerful moment of
evangelization that must not be lost,” he said. “These tools can be used to
mobilize people to get involved — whether it is to serve in a food pantry, to
defend religious freedoms, to speak out against racism, or to walk in a
Eucharistic procession.”

Going forward, support is needed for different
methods of communication, from radio and newspapers to podcasts and video, he
said. “The mission of the Church yesterday, today and tomorrow is to
evangelize, to broadcast the Good News,” said Bishop Burbidge. “To evangelize
is to communicate. To preach is to communicate. To share is to communicate.
That is why communications demand the Church’s full support. This is not an
add-on or an optional expense. It is integral to who the Church is and to her
mission.”

In his concluding tips for sharing the
joy of the Gospel, Bishop Burbidge urged Catholics to become effective
communicators. Choose the medium carefully, he said. Invite, don’t push. Bring
together, don’t tear apart. Be prudent and prayerful when posting. Take time to
listen to others. “Above all else,” he said, “see Christ first, and strive to
see Christ in one another.”