Internet and the Congregation of the Mission

Letters of Father Gregory Gay, CM

January 13, 2011

To all the members of the Congregation of the Mission

“The Congregation is not now what it once was; nor is it what it will be.” Vincent dePaul

My dear confreres,

May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts now and forever!

The world is not now what it once was, nor is it what it will be.  My brothers, the world has changed faster than most of us would ever have anticipated.  The internet is one of the key movers in this change.  One web site alone, Facebook, has a population the size of the third largest country in the world, behind only China and India.  We live in a world without borders.  Can missionaries neglect this virtual country or choose not to engage in conversation with its citizens, most of whom are young?  Have not missionaries always had to learn the language and culture of a mission territory?  We hear from Pope Benedict XVI, that we are to, “…help the men and women of our digital age to sense the Lord’s presence, to grow in expectation and hope, and to draw near to the Word of God which offers salvation and fosters an integral human development. In this way the Word can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different “highways” that form “cyberspace”, and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own.” (Message for the 44thWorld Communications Day). How can we do this if we don’t speak their language and frequently encounter them in their virtual world?

The Congregation is not now what it once was, nor is it what it will be.  Just twenty years ago few in the Congregation had any awareness of how the world would be changed by technology.  A mere ten years ago, at the beginning of the third millennium, our former Superior General, Father Robert Maloney wrote a series of letters, one requiring each province to have an internet connection in its motherhouse and house of formation.  We have advanced to the stage where, from the General Curia can send e-mails to all of the provinces and vice-provinces of the Congregation and to many of the individual and confreres as well.  He also encouraged each province to have a website.  It is noteworthy that today only a handful of provinces have active and attractive web sites.  Father Maloney also challenged us to champion the pastoral use of technology on behalf of the poor.

I have two questions to pose to you for your reflection, my brothers.  First, How will the world be different in just six years?  Whether we like it or not, technology will be woven more and more into the fabric of our lives, even the lives of the poorest among us.  Second, Will we be ready to serve in such a world?  Our Lines of Action from the General Assembly 2010 provide direction as they focus on 1) Formation: encouraging confreres to form attitudes and develop skills necessary for pastoral ministry in the next six years;  2) Reconfiguration: being able to streamline our structures and our administrative processes;  3) Dialog: widening our horizons to discover new needs and collaborative ways of evangelizing and serving;  4) Creativity: responding courageously to new needs in a world without frontiers; 5) Systemic change: aimed at root causes of poverty.  All of these goals can be greatly facilitated by the use of the internet and tools of technology.

Can we use our Vincentian technology resources:

to work together with others, especially members of the Vincentian Family and yet beyond, in serving the poor and investigating the causes of poverty?

to seek grants for setting up computer learning centers in the poorest countries?  We had a pilot project going in Africa, specifically regarding computers and computer centers, but because of lack of financial backing, the project was not able to move forward. Yet there were eight or nine countries of our provinces in Africa interested in pursuing this means of development as a tool of helping to educate and at the same time to evangelize.

to continue to train confreres in computer technology?  I know of individual confreres throughout the Congregation who have a particular interest in this type of technology and are well equipped and are moving forward.  A good example is Father Aidan Rooney in Bolivia.  From Bolivia he has the opportunity to develop a great deal of technology for the service in the Diocese as well as the service of the poor that he and the men in the mission there are serving.

to devise ways in which older confreres can help in the service of the poor through computer technology?

We have to do some reviewing and take specific steps:

That each province have a website that is attractive, especially to the young, and that it be frequently updated.  It means commitment of personnel without a doubt.  And yet, a commitment that will enable a confrere or confreres to reach a good number of people in and through this technological advancement.

At the international level, we are willing to move forward with this training. We will try to offer as much as we can to help the confreres become equipped in this means of evangelization.

We can help to establish guidelines or perspectives on the pastoral use of the internet by missionaries.

We can provide assistance through Famvin in setting up websites, that is, in the major languages that can be easily updated by anyone who has the basic skills of word processing.

We have also thought about the possibility of a type of international gathering, whether it be virtual or in person in order that we might come together and share our expertise and at the same time help prepare moving others forward in this most needed advancement in technology.

Let me conclude with a great thought made by John Paul II in his document on the Church and the internet in 2002.  “Although the virtual reality of cyberspace cannot substitute for real interpersonal community, the incarnational reality of the sacraments and the liturgy or the immediate and direct proclamation of the gospel, it can complement them, attract people to a fuller experience of the life of faith, and enrich the religious lives of users.”

My brothers, I ask you to reflect seriously upon this message and move forward with a desire to evangelize and serve those who are our lords and masters with new ways and new means ever faithful to our call.

Your brother in Saint Vincent,

G. Gregory Gay, C.M.

Superior General

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August 31, 2011

Dear Confreres,

May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ fill your heart now and forever!

The vision of the 2010 General Assembly aims to serve the marginalized more effectively in the next six years.  Last January, I asked each confrere to reflect on preparing to minister in a digital world with all its new opportunities and challenges. In this letter, I offer you the reflections of the Curia on these issues and some of the actions we are undertaking.

Just as last century’s missionaries began to use automobiles for pastoral work and telephones to maintain communication, today’s technology can enhance and improve how we minister. Technology, be it new hardware, software, video-conferencing, E-mail, voicemail, texting, social networking, and other new digital frontiers; all can be utilized as tools to advance the mission of the Church and the apostolates of our congregation. Properly understood, technology today can help us to assess what we do and how we can do it better.

There are ways that community leadership on the international, provincial, and local levels can use technology to enhance administrative practices and improve communication. In this letter, I would like to focus on one specific area: our web site, . It is the desire of the Curia that this web site play a key role in coming years as a significant resource for ministry.  To this end, we are asking Fr. John Maher, our new Director of Communications, together with his assistant Fr. Juventino Castillero, to work with Fr. John Freund to develop this web site as a major vehicle for information and communication.  Their focus will be three-fold:

1.      News. In addition to official documents, will offer expanded news section to foster an international vision and sense of belonging among confreres and provinces, and to the wider Vincentian Family. Our vision, as expressed in the General Assembly’s Creative Fidelity for Mission calls us to “foster theological reflection on the challenges and good that arise from sharing our charism with the laity.” III, 3.3 (p.4)

2.      Resources for ministry and formation:  It is our plan to make a “virtual Vincentian library” without the traditional limits of borders or buildings. Thus, it will be available for use in formation programs world-wide. This central digital resource will identify and provide links to key Vincentian resources in multiple languages. Formation programs, both initial and on-going, will have on-line access to quality resources to educate all learners about specific areas of Vincentian concern, including our charism, theology, missionary theory and practice, and systemic change.

Furthermore, as part of the revision of our Rationis Formationis undertaken by Fr. Stanislav Zontak, Assistant General, formation programs at all levels will be required to address both the personal use of technology and its prudent and effective use in ministry.  Such formation will include an analysis of the strengths and challenges digital technology offers confreres in ministry. As our Ratio Studiorum for Missions stresses the need for enculturation, (c.f.Ch. 2), digital technology provides exciting, new ways to understand “enculturation” in today’s world. Our missionaries have always endeavored to learn the language and customs of the people they served. Today is no different, and digital technology can be a vibrant partner for mission, formation, and enculturation.

3. Collaboration: During this administration, we will identify confreres in our major language groups who are currently involved in the use of technology for ministry and have interest and desire for further training. Our web site, the on-line source for formation, will devote significant space to resources for formation and ministry, including the promotion of systemic change and the tools necessary for its effective utilization. It is our hope this web site will also assist provinces with technical assistance when possible, and provide access to secure video conferencing facilities to save time and money involved in meetings at the international and provincial levels.

Our web site, will also provide opportunities for the sharing of information and dialogue with members of the wider Vincentian Family. As “Creative Fidelity for the Mission” reminds us, with the laity, we will “commit ourselves to work in the evangelization of the poor together with members of the Vincentian Family.”(III, 3.5)

Web sites provide digital access to today’s “global village” and tools for collaboration. They also offer wonderful opportunities to tell the stories of the people we serve, something Vincent did so well.  These stories in turn attract others to their service.  In this digital age, let us pray we may support and encourage one another to learn new, exciting God’s people and deepen our understanding of our Vincentian charism.

Your brother in Saint Vincent,

G. Gregory Gay, C.M.

Superior General