Europe, sinodality, crowdsourcing, vocations: the role of social networks

Press Release at the end of the Meeting of Press Officers and Spokespersons of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Europe and Declaration of the Apostolic Exarch of Sofia

Sofia, Bulgaria, 7-10 June 2017

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The annual Meeting of Press Officers and Spokespersons of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Europe took place in Sofia (Bulgaria) from 7 to 10 June at the invitation of H. Ex. Archbishop Christo Proykov, President of Bulgaria's Interritual Catholic Bishops' Conference (CEIB) and Apostolic Exarch of Sofia.

In the capital city of Bulgaria, the spokespersons discussed the use of new media and social networks in particular to increase the Synodal dimension in the Church and communicate around the Christian notion of vocation; the service and the passion of the Church for Europe; her commitment to combating child abuse on the Internet. They also shared experiences and projects in the field of communication.

In Sofia, the 45 delegates from 25 European countries had also the opportunity to explore and appreciate the important cultural background and Christian heritage of the country; to meet the director of the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), Mr. Maxim Minchev; and to celebrate the Eucharist with the local community. In Bulgaria, the Catholic Church is made up both by the Latin ritual community and the Byzantine rite community. For this small Catholic community, particularly alive, the challenges remain numerous.

Declaration of the Apostolic Exarch of Sofia

As Bulgaria prepares to assume for the first time in its history the presidency of the European Union (since January 2018), the spokespersons of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences have been informed of the regrettable situation recently emerging between the Exarchate di Sofia and the Municipal Finance Department of the capital city that refuses to recognize the status of religious reality of the Catholic monasteries of Sofia.

The local Catholic Church was therefore forced to resort to the Court of Justice against the aforementioned Finance Department that, despite the repeated written opinions opposed by various competent authorities of the State, such as the Directorate of the Religious Affairs Council at the Bulgarian Council of Ministers, preferred to undergo the legal process, which is currently under way.

According to the lawyers of the Exarchate and H. Ex. Archbishop Christo Proykov, "This unpleasant obstinacy sheds a bad light on the respect of rights to religious freedom in Bulgaria, to the extent that it is clearly vulnerable to personal interpretations by municipal or State officials."

10 years since Bulgaria's accession to the European Union

The tenth anniversary of Bulgaria's accession to the European Union has been the occasion for reflection on the state of the Union and the social, political, economic, and cultural challenges that are affecting the entire European continent. In this task, the spokespersons have been helped by the contributions of Mgsr. Paolo Rudelli, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe, and Fr. Olivier Poquillon o.p., Secretary General of Comece.

The passion of the Church for this project of peace and development, namely for this community of destiny, that the European Union is called to be, translates into a constant and discreet accompaniment to the work of the European Institutions. The many challenges that today threaten the cohesion and the European project itself call for a renewed effort by the European institutions to rethink their ways of working seeking inspiration in its own great ideals.  To witness to the passion of the Church for Europe, the Presidents of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences in Europe will meet at the end of September in Minsk, Belorussia, convened by the CCEE, and the mission of the Church in today's context of the Continent is among the themes on which they will reflect. For its part, Comece - the ecclesial body that accompanies the work of the European Union -, together with the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, is organizing a European Dialogue entitled, "(Ri)-thinking Europe. Christian Contributions for the Future of the European Project," which will take place next Autumn (27-29 October) in Rome.

The reflection on Europe was then completed by a meeting with His Majesty Simeon II of Bulgaria, former Prime Minister (2001-2005), of whom the participants had the opportunity to appreciate the great commitment and personal contribution to the implementation of the European project.

The Synod on Young People

Following on from the forthcoming Synod on Youth, the spokespersons initiated a reflection on technological development in the area of communication and dissemination of social media on the following topics: the concept of synodality, the way of communicating the Christian notion of vocation, and the commitment of the Church in combating child abuse on the Internet. These sessions included the contributions of experts such as: Fr. Eric Salobir OP, General Counsellor for Social Communications of Dominicans; Sr. Nathalie Becquart, Director of the National Service for the Evangelization of Young People and Vocations of the French Catholic Bishops' Conference, and Fr. Prof. Dr. Hans Zollner SI, President of the Center for the Protection of the Child.

The new media, and especially social networks, can make a big contribution to promoting the practice of the faithful's participation in the life and reflection of the Church.

Digital culture, through the evolution of the "collective intelligence" (crowdsourcing), a typical feature of the world of hackers and "open source," and by focusing on the involvement of a growing number of minds engaged in a reflection dealing with the same issue, the same situation, and the same problem, in order to identify and increase the number of possible solutions to a given problem - although without the pretense of reaching "a common decision" - could help living and thinking the synodality in the Church in a correct way. These new technological opportunities, however, require the Church and society in general to have a careful control on them to verify that they are truly in the service of the human person, their good, and their truth.

Even when communicating around the Christian notion of vocation, the Church cannot help but having recourse to the new media, social networks, and the images-oriented culture in which young people are immersed today. We must work hard by using a ‘video pedagogy’ and by giving voice to those experiences that can show the beauty of the various vocations in the Church understood as services for the good of all and the Glory of God, while at the same time helping each one to reflect on their relationship with the Lord who calls every single person.

Despite suffering from the cases of child abuse committed by her ordained ministers, the Church knows to be called on to be at the forefront of the fight against all forms of child abuse, which in the age of connectivity are increasingly perpetrated on and through the Internet. The spokespersons have been informed of the initiatives launched in this area, in particular those promoted by the Child Protection Center of the Pontifical Gregorian University and the forthcoming International Conference, "Child Dignity in the Digital World" that will take place in Rome (3-6 October) and confirms the commitment of the Church to Governments and numerous other international institutions to tackle this problem.

Finally, the meeting was also an opportunity to share the projects and good practices of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences in the field of social communications.

The 2018 Meeting of the spokespersons and press officers will take place in Rome, on June 26-28, 2018.

The press release is available in Deutsch, EnglishFrançaiss and Italiano.