By Amanda Murthy
Being present and grounded in the ‘real world’ is vital in order to be able to make a positive contribution to the relationships that are formed and built in the digital world today, Perth Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton communicated to those present at the Perth launch of the 2019 Social Justice Statement held on 26 September in conjunction with the Social Justice Sunday celebrations.
The statement titled “Making it Real: Genuine human encounter in our digital world,” was an invitation by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) directed to every internet user, parish and school community and the various political and industrial leaders – to reflect on how the internet has changed the way people communicate, work, learn and do business – and how they can go beyond loving their immediate neighbour, to announce the love of God to their new global neighbourhood – both offline and on.
The event held at the Newman Siena Centre, hosted by the Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO) saw the attendance of religious clergy, agency workers and student representatives.
Catholic Archdiocese of Perth Communications Manager Jamie O’Brien, Digital Branding Specialist Jamie Brook, and Director and Head of Video at Iceberg Media, Andrea Bernardino formed a panel, to share their expertise on some of the issues highlighted in the statement. The panel discussions were mediated by Director of the Centre for Faith Enrichment Dr Marco Ceccarelli.
Bishop Sproxton began his address by reflecting on some of the benefits of the web, before sharing his thoughts on the chosen topic for this year.
“The benefits of the digital world are very obvious and I think we (the Church) are really doing our best to engage with the opportunities that it offers, to enable the message of the Gospel to be heard in our world,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“We really have to try to find ways to use the digital means that are available to give very good presentations of our faith and the positions as we take as a Church, so that people at large are able to read and to reflect on the material we produce for social media.
‘Making it real’ for me, resonates with that whole idea of learning a way of living together in a world and in relationship with other people, learning from Christ Himself, through the Gospels that are presented to us,” he added.
Posing the question ‘How do we engender that neighbourliness in the virtual world?’ Bishop Sproxton expressed his hope that the statement would inspire the various communities to reflect upon what Christ is asking of them, knowing ways in which they can influence communities in various platforms of the digital world.
“It is bringing what we know from our faith to bear on this virtual or digital world which we enter – the way that we treat each other, the way we respond, the way we express our views, and the way which we propose the truth as we see it without imposing it, (recognising the dignity each person, of ourselves and the people that we are relating with in this digital world).
“We also need to bear in mind that we have a lot to do to bring a conversion of heart and mind so that we can in some way provide an example of how we should conduct ourselves in these forums,” Bishop Sproxton concluded.
Mrs Mitchell, in her opening address highlighted ACBC’s call to all members of the Catholic community and broader society to ‘see the needs of those who are marginalised and vulnerable through the scriptural parable of the Good Samaritan.’
“As people of faith, we are called to be relational with all we encounter including in all online communities – for increasingly, we encounter our neighbour in a digital world,” Mrs Mitchell cited.
“Our societal challenge is to boldly become citizens of the digital world, as Pope Francis calls us to be. Yet still, make real the love of God, in the lives of our neighbours both online and offline.
“However, there are also elements of our digital world that can be harmful such as information overload, social isolation, marginalisation of the vulnerable, consumerism and fake news – just to name a few,” she explained.
Mrs Mitchell added that it is important to remind people that we are all called to be a part of communities.
“We are not at our best when we have individualistic ideas we are really called to be in relation,” she said.
“However we also know that such digital platforms can be used effectively to harness communities to action – such as in the face of natural disasters, humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses,” she concluded.