Online pastoral care during the coronavirus outbreak

Cardinal Tong celebrating Sunday Mass on February 16. Screen capture/HKDAVC

DUE TO THE Covid-19 outbreak, the diocese suspended public Masses and advised that people participate in online streaming Sunday Masses instead, receiving communion spiritually. 

The Church has already faced the challenge of digitalisation in pastoral care and evangelisation. Now, as Covid-19 spreads in various places, how it provides pastoral care and reaches out to the people in society is the great challenge.

In Hong Kong, since the suspension of public Masses, many priests have been broadcasting Masses live and sharing their homilies via the Internet. Church organisations and laypeople have also produced online interactive and prayer programmes.

How can Catholic organisations use social media more effectively and enhance their online presence? How can the Good News of Christ be brought to the people who are surfing the cyber world on the mobile phones?

Apart from one-way online dissemination of information, some Christian groups have launched Internet gatherings for an interactive experience. This is changing the traditional mode of how we gather.

In fact, Internet communities and the tangible Church can be complementary. Indeed, the Church must transform praying online and the experience of faith sharing into Christian life rooted in the Word and the community. As suggested in the secular world, we must coordinate and balance the work both online and offline.

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Although online Mass and receiving Holy Communion spiritually is an expedient measure, the Interactive experience between pastors and the faithful during the Covid-19 outbreak might help the Church better respond to Internet trends and social needs.

In modern times, several popes made responses to the development of the Internet in their messages for the World Communications Day. Their insights help us consider how to integrate our faith lives inside and outside the Internet. For example, we should direct our online experience to more in-depth interaction; the Internet should be open to the dimension of faith, namely bringing out human dignity and truth.

In his message last year, Pope Francis also reminded us that social networking communities are not automatically synonymous with physical communities and that the Church must help everyone to find their own identity. At the same time, “the Church herself is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on ‘likes’, but on the truth.”

Thus, Christians must also build a community which desires the truth on the Internet. Amid an enormous amount of information, it is particularly important for the Church to speak out and bear witness to the truth.

Let us continue to pray for an end to the Covid-19 outbreak and for the Church’s work. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes so that we can, through physical means and the Internet, comfort the distressed hearts in the midst of the present crisis. SE

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