What do Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Bishop Leonardo Medroso, and Monsignor Jose Manguiran have in common? They are all diocesan bishops, you say. Well, that’s quite obvious, isn’t it. But did you know that the three of them are also bloggers?
The blogosphere is a new place and opportunity for leaders of faith communities to dialogue with the online world. Aside from being inexpensive to develop and maintain, blogs are inherently global in reach and two-way in approach. And to think that there are more than 14 million of them all over the world. In order to be effective in their task of teaching, sanctifying and shepherding the people of God, church leaders (bishops, pastors, parish priests and other religious leaders) should blog and maintain an active, listening presence in the blogosphere. Why? Let me give you three reasons:
1. To reach and enrich
Blogging is perhaps the cheapest publishing tool, be it online or offline. Most blogwares, blogspaces and bandwidths are free. Visit Blogger, Friendster, Yahoo 360, MSN Spaces, Blogsome, MyBlogSite and you’ll know what I mean. At the minimum, all you need to pay is rent for a computer unit and a cup of cappuccino in an internet cafe. Compare that with, say, a printed parish newsletter, and you’ll realize how much time and money you’ll save (just imagine the number of trips you need to make to the publishing house and the amount of coffee you need to drink to cope with the stress). But the real power of blogging lies in its ability to reach people on a global scale in real time. Precisely because of this, blogging has created an enormous possibility in which online people worldwide can be reached and enriched.
To be able to reach and enrich, church leaders must employ various modes and styles. They may do so by cultivating friendly relationships online, by exchanging information and faith-life experiences, by communicating the life-giving and liberating truths of faith, and by guiding people in their search for solutions to their personal and social problems. As bloggers, church leaders should make it their utmost concern to initiate and promote dialogue with the online world – avoiding a blogging style which suggests high-handedness and manipulation. Utilized properly and positively, the blogosphere can well become a milieu where cooperation, morally-sound decisions and spirituality are fostered and deepened.
Comments are default applications in almost every blog. And this means that the interaction and enrichment process is two-way. While church leaders can reach and enrich their readers, the readers themselves can also reach and enrich their church leaders through feedbacks. This way church leaders can also learn from their online visitors and establish more profound rapport with them.
2. To proclaim and explain
One of the most important tasks of church leaders is to proclaim the Word of God not only to the people entrusted to them but to as many as they can reach. In the offline world, proclamation is usually done through sermons, which is hopelessly one-way communication. The homilist talks and the faithful only listen – they cannot even raise their hands to ask questions. In the parish and other local gatherings of the faithful, there are really very few opportunities to discuss issues of morality, spirituality and theology in depth, unless you are one of the very few who regularly attend bible-studies, Life in the Spirit seminars and other pastoral training programs.
In cyberspace, however it is quite different. Blogging can be used not only to share ideas and reflections but also to explain matters of faith and morals in depth. For example, church leaders can discuss in detail moral issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, et cetera. They may choose to blog about the their church’s position on social issues like child labor, abuse of women, destruction of the environment, corruption in the government, and poverty. Or they may do a brief exegesis of the scripture readings. They may also add links to like-minded blogs or recommend books for further reading. The feedback mechanism can allow readers to post questions and share their own views and reflections on the topics discussed. And all these can be done in real time. If readers are shy about revealing themselves, they can always remain anonymous. And if they like what is blogged they can forward it to their friends as emails or share it as printouts.
3. To accompany and guide
In the blogosphere, church leaders should take the roles of companions and guides. Inspired by the principles and truths of their faith, church leaders can and must accompany and guide online communities through the jungle of moral and immoral options available.
Yet church leaders can fulfill such task only if they know their audience. In other words, to be good shepherds they must know their sheep. Only this knowledge enables the cyber shepherds to be relevant to their online flock. They must speak the “language” of their cybersheep and know their concerns, expectations, needs and aspirations. They must adapt their blogging styles and contents to different contexts and situations.
But shepherding is a two-way process. It is not only that the shepherds should know their sheep, the sheep too must know their shepherd. This requires cybershepherds to be transparent, fatherly/motherly, and available. They must be able to communicate that their cybersheep’s concerns, expectations, needs and aspirations are important to them. And their blogs must reflect the personality, moral conviction and spiritual depth of the blogger.
Just like any other gathering of people, the blogosphere needs proactive leaders who can reach and enrich, proclaim and explain, and accompany and guide its members. And I am convinced that by performing such needful tasks, church leaders can contribute significantly to the renewal, revival and rejuvenation of faith communities.
But of course, blogging is not a utopian answer to all the communication needs of faith communities. Blogging is but a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, personal interaction and face-to-face pastoral care. It is obvious that, like thousand other online tools, blogging has its limitations – it is impossible to hyperlink the Eucharistic bread or baptize somebody online or solemnize marriage in shoutout boxes. But listening, praying, studying the scriptures, faith-sharing, extending support and encouragement can be carried out through weblogs. They have the potential to unite cybershepherds and their online flocks as one family, and thus together live, believe and act according to God’s will.