AT THE SERVICE OF COMMUNION.
1. The Communication we Need
1.1. The Church and communications.
The role of communication in evangelization has been stressed by the
Church for some time. The Papal documents like Communio et Progressio in
1971 and Aetatis Novae in 1992 call our attention to the fact that the
means of communication should be used in an effective way to spread
In Latin America, several assemblies of the Episcopal conferences offer a
good contribution to our reflection on social communications both inside
and outside the Church. The documents of Medellin in 1968, Puebla in 1979,
and Santo Domingo in 1992 are the most important and call our attention to
the need for more investment by the Church in the formation of Christian
communicators and the acquisition of new technologies or vehicles of
In Brazil, the commitment of the Church to communications is reflected
in the 35th Assembly of the bishops’ conference (1997) in its document The
Church and Communications in the Third Millennium. One of the commitments
make by the bishops is the creation of a communications team in each
Before reflecting on how each parish could develop its communications
program we would like to ask the following questions: What do we
understand by communications? How can communications help the life of the
people in our parishes and communities?
1.2. What is communication?
Without communication there is no life or relationship between people.
From our birth we learn means to manifest our needs and desires. By
communicating we learn, experiment, question, love and try to change what
troubles us and propose new options. Communication is present at every
moment of our lives: when we meet with other people (interpersonal
communication), in community (group communication), our contact with large
audiences (mass communication) and is present in our relationship with
God. To be effective communicators we need to use resources that are
conductive to the people we meet.
Interpersonal communication is to transmit a message through gestures,
words, meetings, telephone, letters, e-mail etc. By group communication we
mean what happens when we work with a group that has a defined
socio-cultural identity and similar interests. In group communication we
can use a leaflet, a microphone etc. Today it is possible to use
telecommunications for distance meetings with people that have common
Mass communication is used to reach a wider public that is heterogenic,
anonymous and without any possibility of feedback. We can use TV, radio,
the internet. These means are becoming more advanced to communicate more
widely and quickly than we could do so personally.
1.3. Promoting Communication at the service of Communion.
When we communicate we need some feedback from others to know what they
think, the information they would like to receive… It is easy to count the
means of communication that promote real dialogue that culturally enrich
people. In general, the mass media stresses negative events, accidents and
tragedies for sensational reasons. John Paul II stated that the mass media
can be used to promote the common good, but it also brings risks.
According to him the media can neglect cultural diversity, make it
difficult to promote critical awareness by promoting the search for
pleasure or by ignoring reality.
One way to promote communication that is at the service of solidarity and
the community is to stimulate people (groups, parishes, popular
organizations) not to be mere consumers, but to produce and transmit
information. We should think of forms of communication that have the input
of the community and thereby give the community an opportunity to express
itself and propose change. Good and ethical communication should reflect
the expectations of people to promote change for the common good.
1.4. Communication challenges for the Church in the New Millennium.
The world is going through constant and rapid changes where the values of
people, faith and life styles are extremely diverse. Not all change today
is oriented to overcome social inequalities and injustices. Rather,
inequality is becoming more widespread worldwide. This is one of the
reasons why our mission continues to be more urgent than ever. Pope John
Paul II in his letters: The Coming of the Third Millennium in 1994 and
Beginning of the New Millennium in 2001 asks the local churches to
continue their mission with responsibility, translating the good news
which is Christ into the language and culture of the people. We can
facilitate the participation by all, because the Spirit of God is present
in each one.
When we speak of community we often hear such expressions as: “it is not
easy because here we have cliques”, “we don’t have the support of the
community”, “if we do anything people say we just want to show off”, “and
the pastor does not want us to do anything”. Such expressions reflect the
fact that we are human and have our shortcomings’ like: fear, vanity and
selfishness. Perhaps for these reasons we have to face the challenges
linked to interpersonal communications in order to be able to deal with
the task of group and mass communications.
2. A Community needs to Communicate.
2.1. Communication in parishes.
Research carried out revealed the central role of oral communication in
parishes. The announcements at the end of mass, conversations with
families, contact with neighbours, informal contacts, the time spend in
the parish office are an excellent source of information about the Church
and the parish. According to the same research, interpersonal
communication plays a central role. It also showed the value of bulletins
and pamphlets. The mass media (TV, radio, newspapers) still plays a modest
role when it comes to information about the Church.
We need to value and maximize oral communication where we work as well as
using other means to bring information to the local population. This
implies that we must respect, value and listen to people.
With good planning, good communication helps to:
Give dynamism to the life of the parish, reach out to non practicing
Catholics, makes the parish and its activities know to the public by using
the mass media, support participation in the liturgy, contribute to the
communication and relationship between the various pastoral activities.
2.2. Where to begin.
It is important to verify the effectiveness of communication within the
parish. In this way one may discover that information is not reaching the
parishioners on time or that the feast days, meetings and other events
have poor participation or that there is no feedback reaching the public.
In this case it is time to reflect on the causes of such problems and on
ways to improve dialog with all involved.
Looking at the root of the problems, searching for new insights,
reflecting on the resources available, the level of teamwork, reviewing
the timetable and form of evaluations can lead to a communications project
or plan. A good plan is based on the analysis of the reality and the
contribution of all involved. Promoting communications is always a
It is not sufficient that a small group come to the conclusion that
communication in the parish is poor and decide to create an informative
bulletin to solve the problem. Such an attitude, taken without considering
the proposals of other people and groups can result in a worse situation.
It is not possible to mobilize the parishioners to read a bulletin which
is not the result of a collective effort or responds to the needs of the
community. Normally, whoever is not involved will not promote or support
To promote reflection on the need to plan a communications project we
suggest the following steps:
We can invite people from the parish who have an interest in
communications as well as representatives of the existing organizations
and ministries for an exchange of ideas. In this way we are begging to
form a Communications Team. The central idea is to invite as many people
as possible to participate, give their opinion and decide collectively.
The best way forward is that the pastor or those responsible for
communications make the invitation organize the meeting and as a team
analyze the situation in the parish. The analyses should be as wide as
possible and reflect on important questions like the quality of the
service in the parish secretariat, the relationship between the different
ministries, organizations, services, the way of welcoming people, the
animation and participation in the liturgy, the quality of meetings and
the way to relate with non church institutions. The existing means of
communication like a newspaper, radio, homepage, notice board should be
evaluated. Research on what has already been discussed on the wider
ecclesial and zonal level is also recommended. This should facilitate the
task of coming to a conclusion and promote consensus in relation to a
When communications is going well in our parish the reason for the success
should serve as an example for other parishes. On the other hand, if
communications is not going well it is time to convene a group to examine
the root cause of the problem.
- Seeing the reality the group perceived the difficulty to edit the
parish bulletin on a monthly basis because the person responsible did not
have the help of anybody else. When it comes to make an evaluation it is
central to see if the bulletin corresponds to the needs of the people. Do
the people identify with it? Is there a concern to prepare people to help?
- The catechists are without motivation due to the poor participation of
the children in their weekly meetings. Is it because the classrooms have
few children? Is the classroom welcoming and comfortable? Are the
catechists using a language the children can understand? What audio-visual
aids are being used?
- Does information reach the outside public in the parish? Is anybody
responsible for this mission? Does the person responsible have access to
fax/internet for their work? Do the people involved have contact with
professional communicators? Does information arrive in good time for
By analyzing the causes of each problem raised by the team we will have a
good basis to make the necessary changes. When we evaluate it shows that
we want to correct errors and find the best solution possible.
A Communications Team that is just beginning should not try to do
everything at once. It is important to plan each step. Without planning it
is impossible to know what we really want. A plan will help the parish’s
Communications Team to select the activities that it is possible to handle
and obtain reasonable results. When the team is well organized, with some
training and motivated by faith, time will create the conditions needed to
take on more ambitious tasks.
To plan well we must reflect on:
What do we want from the Communications Team in the parish or community?
This question should help define a mission statement or objective for the
What needs to be accomplished? We suggest that in order to start the
Communications Team should choose a maximum of three activities that can
be handled by the Team. It is also important to value what already exists
in the community.
How to move into action: one must define strategies to help the Team put
their mission into practice and obtain the desired results. To plan each
activity we have to ask the same question: What results do we want to
achieve? What is the specific aim of the undertaking?
Who will carry out the tasks? Here we can divide the tasks and decide who
will be responsible for them. A time table and the financial resources
available have to be taken seriously. Every plan demands ongoing
evaluation. Regular evaluations are vital in order to correct mistakes.
2.3. How to develop the work.
To start a task is always the most difficult step, as time goes by the
work will take shape and gain its own rhythm. Strong motivation and
perseverance as the Communications Team begins its work is vital. The task
of the Communications Team has its own special characteristics and its
work permeates all other ministries, groups and services in the parish or
diocese. Every Communications Team should be part of the parochial
council. It will help to legitimize the team and guarantee the quality of
the work and make it known and understood by other groups and ministries.
The place of spirituality cannot be ignored. Without spirituality, a faith
modelled on Jesus Christ as the “perfect communicators” we cannot
persevere and maintain the commitment alive. One way to promote
spirituality for the Team is to reserve time for biblical reading, prayer
and reflection at each meeting, as well as an exchange of experiences and
2.4. Examples of Activities.
Depending on the reality of each parish or community the Communications
Team while being involved in various activities can animate the work of
other ministries in the parish.
Communication within the Community:
We should emphasize activities like the preparation of the news bulletin,
leaflets and the notice board, ushers who welcome people for the
celebrations, announcements at the end of mass, improving the sound system
in the church, training readers for the liturgical celebrations, posters,
letters, banners, training for communicators, visual displays in available
spaces, the promotion of cultural events, organizing a library with DVDs,
videos, CDs, talks on communications. The use of the Internet and other
new technologies should be promoted.
Communication outside the ecclesial community.
Not all ecclesial events need to be broadcast or made known to the wider
community. Any activity that deserves special attention should be given
due space and publicity. A basic task is to produce or edit news items,
prepare people for interviews, create an ambiance that can be used for
taking good photographs and filming. Other vehicles that cannot be ignored
are community radio, local newspapers, outdoors, posters, outside
loudspeakers, cultural events, catholic Web pages.
3. Communications for all.
3.1. The art of welcoming.
To welcome means to know how to receive people with a spirit of joy and by
paying attention to what people say and help in such a way that a person
can feel valued and comfortable. To reach out and welcome people is part
of our Christian way of life. Whatever activity we are engaged in, we are
obliged to respect and value the people we meet.
The parish secretariat is a privileged place for communication because
people come to seek documents, information or the sacraments. A good
welcome by the people in the secretariat and who are spoke persons for the
parish and the Church is fundamental. The ambiance as well as the
behaviour of the secretary should be coherent with his/her function and
service to the community. When people feel welcomed it makes it easier for
a person to return. It is not sufficient to have an efficient, educated
and punctual worker. The person needs to be well informed. The person does
not need to solve every issue that arises, but needs to know who in the
community should be approached on certain issues, that is, where and when
it is possible to find a group coordinator, the pastor etc.
How to improve one’s service?
The secretariat should be an attractive place, clean, organized and with
chair for people to sit down. To be able to make people welcome, the
secretary needs a sense of gratuity and availability as an evangelizing
agent. To be able to serve as best as possible he/she needs the resources
to be able to be effective: a well aired room, a computer, internet, fax
and a good achieve. The secretary should also be well informed about the
dates and time of events in the community like courses, meetings,
celebrations. Therefore, the secretary should be in close contact with the
various ministries in the parish.
The Communications Team can always advise the secretary on human
relations, as well as how to produce a card with addresses, telephone
numbers, times of celebrations, courses that will take place and the
organization of the achieves. Such procedure calls for a regular meeting
between the secretary and the Communications Team. It is the secretariat
that receives suggestions, criticisms and opinions about life in the
parish due to the conversation of the secretary with the people who pass
by every day. The Communications Team needs to know what the community has
to say. Research is important, but daily conversations are a source of
information and ideas.
The parish residence/presbytery.
The person who normally works in the parish residence or presbytery should
be well informed about the role of the secretary and know how to direct
people who seek information or orientation.
A warm welcome is essential for all celebrations – masses, baptisms or
marriages. To make this a reality the parish can create a Reception Team.
With the help of people who are prepared and available, it becomes easier
to bring a sense of fraternity and solidarity to the community. The
Reception Team takes part in the celebrations, welcome those who come,
prepare and hand out cards that welcome new parishioners, visit the sick
and the family of a deceased person. The same team can also be present in
bigger events in the parish: meetings, courses. There are no fixed rules;
rather, they are guided by the evangelic value of fraternal communion.
Each parish has to discover the best way to welcome people. The
Communications Team can help by offering workshops on group
communications, theatre, techniques to avoid being shy or distant. It can
also help to produce any printed material that the Reception Team will
3.2. The visual appearance of the ambiance.
The Communications Team together with the catechists, the Reception Team
and liturgical team can be entrusted with the decoration of the church,
the parish hall and the secretariat. The ambiance should reflect the
message the community wishes to communicate to those who visit it. Those
who decorate the church should be familiar with the liturgy. Places like
the altar and the lectionary should not be decorated. The liturgical
seasons should be visible and flowers are not used during advent and lent.
A good poster should be attractive and contain only the essential
information. The text should be short and clear and is more presentable
with an illustration or photograph. Normally it needs to be printed and
should indicate the copywriters or author. Posters should be placed in key
locations. Good material is to be seen and not hidden in a corner. Whether
it is a church, commercial area, school, bus stop or bar, the poster
should be placed to the right and on the upper part of the space
available. The experts say our eyes are first directed to these angles.
Pamphlets are a low cost production and are normally used to publish
events or campaigns. They may have a photograph or illustration, but need
to be easy to read facilitating the easy comprehension of the content.
Pamphlets can easy be reproduced on the computer or photocopier, unless a
very large quantity is foreseen.
3.5. The Liturgy.
The Communications Team can also collaborate with the liturgical and
Reception Teams in order to improve the communication during the
celebration: like the posture of the celebrant and assistants, how to
proclaim a reading. There are also techniques to improve one’s voice and
breathing as well as the use of the microphone. When the pastor and the
various teams work in harmony can solve the difficulties that hinder an
3.6. Parochial Announcements
Research has shown that people who participate in the life of the parish
are the best source of information about the life in the parish for their
friends, neighbours. Parochial announcements are essential because at
times it is the only communication used. What do people think of the way
announcements are made? It is common for the pastor to make announcements
before the final blessing. However, what could be of interest to all
becomes a source of distraction or whispers.
How one can improve
The Communications Team can help the pastor to find more attractive and
efficient ways to communicate news items and announcements to the
community. It is not necessary that the pastor be the one to make
announcements. A recording could be used; projection onto a screen or one
of the Team could give the announcements. The announcements can also be
presented in video or representations. However, it is not a time for
giving detailed or drawn out information so that people can easily
remember what was said.
The items to communicate should be well selected. Some should be published
only in a bulletin, a notice board or a pamphlet, especially those that
have dates, times, addresses etc. The information given at the end of mass
needs to be clear, short and objective, like what is taking place,
location, date and time. Explanations and motivations should be given only
when really necessary. Priority is given to items that are more urgent and
for each public (children, youth, and adults) one must think about the
best way to communicate the information with words that can be easily
3.7. Notice Board
The notice board is a means of visual communication. It should be simple,
attractive and well planned. Even if the parish has a bulletin the notice
board is still important because it can be updated easily. The fact that
information is renewed each week can generate more interest and promote
the habit of reading what is published. To stress that the bulletin is
different, one can use a different colour each week. A notice board can be
rearranged easily and should be easy to read by using big letters, short
texts and avoiding complicated details. The use of photographs, special
titles are also important. When it comes to services that are provided
both the location, telephone number and the time should be included.
Content of a Notice Board.
The preparation of the notice board should be discussed by the Team. A
meeting of the Team decides what and how something will be published. The
layout and presentation will also be discussed. The ideal for a
newspaper/bulletin is that it contains only essential information and has
a defined format. In this way the reader knows the type of news to be
expected each week: announcements, financial reports, services being
provided, events, invitations, times of celebrations and the opinion of
the pastor or from somebody in the community on present day themes.
One way to draw the attention to the announcements is to invite people
from the community to read them. The person who speaks could give small
headlines like: this week our notice board contains news about the
situation of the imprisoned in the city/area.
3.8 Bulletin/Parish newspaper.
A bulletin or parish newspaper normally publishes news items, activities,
and anniversaries and aims to favour the integration of the various
ministries in view of strengthening a collaborative ministry and to make
the activities of the church more widely known. Besides giving information
the bulletin should also take into account the formation of the community
by promoting human, cultural and ethical values.
To produce a newspaper whether it is a tabloid or in bulletin form needs
to follow certain procedure. The first decision is always the type of
publication that will be prepared. Only then is it possible to decide on
its frequency, the content etc.
We should be careful that the bulletin is not the only reason for creating
a Communications Team. A bulletin only has meaning if the community wants
it. If the bulletin becomes more important than the content or message it
looses its meaning of being a means of communication.
3.9. History of the parish.
By putting together the necessary information it is possible to write a
history of the parish. At times we face the difficulty that there is
nothing available in writing. The living memory of people, especially of
the older generation, pastors who worked in the parish, catechists and
other people who were involved in the life of the parish are an excellent
source of information.
A general outline could look like this: when the parish began, how the
church was built, the first pastors, the history of organizations and how
the others communities belonging to the parish were created. According to
the data it will be possible to organize titles and texts, while leaving
space to write or comment on the present day situation. Other information
that can be useful is a description of the ministries in the parish, how
they function, when and where they meet, the names and telephone numbers
of the coordinators and how one can become a member. If photographs are
available they can be organized in a folder as part of the research
The patron Saint of the parish.
Another area of interest is the patron saint of the parish and the
traditional festivities of the parish. The history of the saints
associated with the community is always of interest. The material can be
made available to be seen by those interested in the parish secretariat.
Once the material is edited by the Communications Team it can be published
in a tabloid or book format.
3.10. Courses on group communications.
The Communications Team normally comes together with the people concerned
to reflect on the communication within each ministry or pastoral activity.
The way to organize the meeting, the use of video, how to present
interesting talks should be clear.
By using workshops the Communications Team can help each group to improve
its communications and how to effectively publish the scope of their
activities. The biggest challenge at times is to overcome the tendency to
be self cantered and be ready to learn form others, respecting their ideas
What distinguishes our way of communicating as Christians lies in the
value we give to others, the promotion of human and ethical values. This
calls for ongoing formation for communicators, not only technical
formation, but formation that stresses the values of service and a sense
of community belonging.
3.11. Contact with professional communicators.
The Communication Team should give special attention to professionals in
the area of TV, radio and local newspapers. In this way the Team will be a
source of information on religious and Church issues for journalists that
wish to be in contact with people from the parish. Another possibility is
to invite professional communicators to integrate the Communications Team
in the parish. Other options include special events for professional
journalists. A good opportunity is the World Communication Day celebrated
on the feast of the ascension. Since 1967 the Pontifical Council for
Social Communications publishes a papal message for the date. It may be
good to use such material at a meeting of professionals.
3.12. Radio Programs
The radio is still a popular means of communication that reaches people
easily at home or at work. Making use of existing radios to present a
parish program demands a transmission with quality and that catches the
attention of listeners. Evangelization by using the radio is not to give
catechetic. It is more to convey ethical values that give life and hope to
Some suggestions for a radio program:
- Target one’s audience
- Define which radio will be used, the day , time and type of program
- Define whether it will be live or recorded, the presenter, music and
- Form a production team
- Secure financial resources
- To make the program widely known in the area
- The quality of the program is vital to guarantee an audience and
- The program should be interesting in order to capture the attention of
- Guarantee the participation of the listeners
- One needs regular meetings of the production team to prepare the
outline of programs
- Guarantee a systematic evaluation of the programs.
When there is a live transmission of the mass, the role of a commentator
is fundamental. During moments of silence a commentary is important to
avoid giving the impression that the program is off the air or that there
has been a technical problem.
Historical records maintain that theatre as such originated in Greece in
the seventh century BC., based on religious rituals to the god Dionysius.
Throughout the centuries theatre has been an important instrument for
discussion and reflection.
The use of theatre or plays is positive means of communication during
meetings, catechetic and celebrations. They can reflect an event, an
important date etc. The first step is to choose a text and have the group
practice it through group reading. If it happens to be a long text it may
need to be shortened or edited. The space and time available will
determine the technical resources required. It will be easy to determine
roles and who will take the different responsibilities. Each person has to
memorize his or her part and have several rehearsals to guarantee a good
presentation. People have to be appointed as producers: lighting, scenery,
advertising the event. The final rehearsal should takes place on the day
of the presentation to check roles, lighting, sound and to avoid a sense
of disorganization. It should have a professional touch.
DVD - Video.
Today in what we call “the image era in real time” we cannot ignore the
use of video/DVD. Video helps to address topics with facility such as
political, economic, cultural and religious themes. The video has to be
well used; normally somebody should act as the facilitator. It should
The Communication Team could promote a workshop to improve the skills of
people who are pastoral coordinators, catechists, community leaders or
By using the Internet we enter the world wide web of computers and
information that is offered as a huge library. Everybody who has access to
such facilities can consult freely at any time and from any part of the
word this facility. Any institution or company that wants to grow and be
visible should use this technology that facilitates communication on
various levels. A parish or diocese can create its own homepage. Using a
homepage makes it easier to publish events, activities, photographs,
history of the patron saint, homilies. People involved in the mass media
also consult the internet. The Communications Team can create this
service. More professional homepages need the help of specialists the make
the best use of the homepage as well as making it user friendly.
The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer
monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the
face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? It is only when
his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad
tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this
is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no
room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World
Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross
this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in
the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the
world "the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord
bless all those who work for this aim. (John Paul II, Message for World
Communications Day, 2002, N° 6).
Personally I learned to use such techniques while working in a parish. To
be effective in presenting the message of Christ is central in our life
and mission as SVDs.
Very often the mass media is concerned in maintaining its audience even
when that involves ignoring ethical values and respect for moral
standards. As Christian communicators we should use the mass media to
promote truth and life. Therefore, our presence in the media should be
well elaborated, guided by evangelical values and use accessible language.
I offer this reflection as a help to all SVDs in order to prepare them as
best as possible to carry out this important service in the community. As
coordinator for communications I am willing to help in any way possible to
put these principles into practice and organize workshops to give life to
the dimension of communication in our parishes and communities.
I believe that the proposals are viable and relatively easy to put into
practice. We need to plan, act and evaluate to be more effective. If
everything is carried out in close collaboration with the pastor, pastoral
groups and organizations the communication should become more efficient