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Bishop eyes free wifi in parishes

Paterno Esmaquel II
It's a 'tough challenge' to attract the 'e-generation,' says the bishop of Pasig

'MULTIMEDIA EVANGELIZATION.' To understand the youth, bishops attend a social media seminar on Jan 22, 2014. How can they draw the 'e-generation' to churches? Photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – To help the youth find the Lord, why not find them an Internet connection?

It’s a new idea that the bishop of Pasig, Mylo Hubert Vergara, wants to explore. He plans to offer free wifi in parishes to attract the “e-generation.”

Vergara on Wednesday, January 29, said the idea came from a woman who spoke with Pasig’s priests.

In a forum at the Loyola School of Theology in Quezon City, Vergara recalled her explanation. “She said, ‘Because the youth would gather there, and once their tablets or cellphones are open, given your controls that we will install, you can do your evangelization there, within the range of bandwidth.'”

Within this range, Vergara said, parishes can activate pop-ups on lives of saints and Bible passages.

“Interesting,” he told the audience. “I never realized that. And our diocese would venture into that in the next years.”

Vergara spoke in the context of lay involvement in the Catholic Church, in time for the Year of the Laity. (READ: New CBCP head: ‘Politics is business.’)

He chairs the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

‘Multimedia evangelization’

For him, it’s a “tough challenge” to preach to the “electronic generation,” captivated by the Internet.

“They want things that entertain them at an instant, so colorful and attractive, pleasurable to their hearing and seeing,” the bishop observed. “So how do we reach out to and evangelize people, especially the young, exposed to this highly technological milieu?”

Priests like him, he said, should learn to maximize “multimedia evangelization tools.”

Vergara challenged Church leaders to reflect: “Have our dioceses, parishes, been at par with the e-generation in its use of multimedia tools? Have we tapped the expertise of professional lay men and women to help us in evangelization in this digital age?”

It’s a challenge facing not only Catholics, but also other Christian groups that struggle for the youth’s attention.

Slowly, they’ve been trying to enter the virtual world. (READ: Word of God, language of Facebook)

Internet a ‘gift from God’

Pope Francis, after all, considers the Internet a “gift from God.”

His predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, described social networks as “new spaces for evangelization.”

Benedict explained: “Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

A basic question for Vergara, however, concerns a natural tendency when wifi is free. Wouldn’t the wifi distract its users from Masses?

Well, the bishop amused the crowd with his instant solution.

Vergara said in jest, “The pop-up would be, ‘Silence, Mass is going on.’” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.