Cardinal Tagle: Digital evangelization cannot replace personal encounter

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle speaks at a Vatican press conference presenting the 2021 World Mission Day, Oct. 21, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

While the COVID-19 pandemic led many Catholic dioceses and organizations to find creative ways to communicate the Gospel online, digital evangelization is not a replacement for personal encounter, the head of the Vatican’s missionary office has said.

“There are some facts of life that cannot be digitalized and cannot remain digitalized. We are corporeal beings. We need contact,” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said at a live-streamed Vatican press conference on Oct. 21.

“As we thank the digital media for its blessings, let us not forget that … there are other intelligences that need to be developed,” he said.

The cardinal stressed that in addition to their digital savvy, young people need to also develop relational and emotional intelligence.

“There is a calling for us in the Church, to develop the other types of intelligences,” he added.

Tagle noted the limitations of some social media platforms. He used Twitter as an example, pointing out that with its character limit, “you don’t have an appreciation anymore of the complexity of context.”

He said that “a certain comportment of mind and heart” and intelligence is needed to generate trust again at a time when there is “a lot of distrust” in the world.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Cardinal Tagle spoke at a press conference for World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated in Catholic dioceses across the world this weekend on Oct. 24.

“We need living witnesses. Those who, through their … witness of life through their quality of relationships, through their compassion for the poor, would give a living announcement of the Gospel,” Tagle said.

He shared an experience he had when visiting a refugee camp. During his visit, Tagle said that he was approached by the head of the camp, who asked him why the Christians were doing so much to help the refugees.

“And I felt like he was not only curious, he wanted to really know the secret of our sacrifice, of our love and compassion,” the cardinal said.

“The Holy Spirit used him to open the door, so I said: ‘Our Master Jesus Christ taught us to love everyone.’”

“And you know what he said? ‘I want to get to know your Master, Jesus Christ.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Tagle, the former archbishop of Manila in the Philippines, has served as the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples since December 2019. He is also the president of Caritas International and the Catholic Biblical Federation.

At the height of lockdown restrictions last year, Tagle said that the requests for Bible formation online through the Catholic Biblical Federation had increased.

He expressed gratitude that the internet could be used as a tool at that time when visits to family and parish activities were restricted to “sustain some sort of relationships.”

World Mission Day — also known as World Mission Sunday — was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October.

This year’s theme is: “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Pope Francis released his message for World Mission Day 2021 on Jan. 29. In it, the pope warned Catholics not to succumb to the temptation of justifying indifference on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions.

“A deep experience of Jesus leads to a state of mission,” Tagle said.

“It is not a mission that is just functional or pragmatic. It is an expression of joy and gratitude to the one who has done marvels for us and for the poor,” he added.

Each year on World Mission Sunday, a worldwide collection is taken in support of the Pontifical Mission Societies, an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the pope.

They include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.

“We have to share the Lord. We have to share the Lord that we have experienced. Yes, we have our personal experience of the Lord, but it is not for us to keep, to own. It is given to us as a gift to be shared with others,” Tagle said.

“The more we share the gift of Jesus, the deeper our faith grows. If we keep the faith to ourselves, the faith will become weak. And if we keep the faith only among a small group, it might become an elite group.”

The cardinal pointed to the example of many missionaries who were “inspired by their experience of the Lord to go out, to go out of themselves, to get out of their fears, to reach all the nations whether geographical or existential spaces” to bear witness as an act of gratitude to the Lord.

“So we are reminded this Sunday, this World Mission Sunday, that spirituality and encounter with the Lord is always missionary,” he said.

“And mission is always also spiritually grounded in an experience of Jesus, an experience that moves us out of ourselves, to share Jesus to all the nations.”

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1 Comment

  1. “We are corporeal beings. We need contact” (Tagle). Very true, much required in a world increasingly given to virtual reality. Especially those of us with religious belief and with that the world of the spiritual. A perverse belief that physical, actual contact is unnecessary when high tech makes virtual encounter so real even more attractive. Similar to the Catharist, although the physical rather than evil is inferior to the individual’s exclusive sensual experience, personal satisfaction. Covid lockdowns live streamed Mass fear Vaxx controversy have inured Catholics, now quite satisfied with minimal contact particularly ‘live’ religion. Laity repelled by quotas, Mass tickets, masks, segregation, as if boring homilies were insufficient would rather watch Mass televised from Irondale AL offered with reverence and solemnity decent homilies. An opportunity to convince the people I love that Christ’s Real Presence is far more important. Cardinal Tagle from what I took makes a sound evangelization argument for real contact with real people with that Christ’s presence in the believing community, His Mystical Body. Physical exclusion similarly contributes to factional exclusivity, a current dilemma to One Body One Church. Our Church, from Pope Francis down the chain of command is at the stage where it needs to break the yoke of governmental proscriptions on how we must live Vaxx or no Vaxx.

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