Members of the Vincentian Family want to serve those who are marginalized.
In the American literary classic, Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and woke up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.
For over thirty years, we have been living in the very early stages of a “digital revolution”.
Thanks to COVID, zooming and social media have become a fact of life.
But we are just now beginning to wake up to how this digital revolution is revealing a new form of poverty … lack of access to digital technology.
In this Vincentian Mindwalk, I explore serving the marginalized in a digital world.
Missionaries have been told for centuries they must first learn the language of a new territory.
And they must also understand the culture to speak effectively to that different culture.
It is not that we were not alerted to the importance of digital means of communication in bringing good news to those on the margins.
A 20-year-old document from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications saw the broad outlines before most people. The Church and the Internet said …
“the Internet, which is helping bring about revolutionary changes in commerce, education, politics, journalism, the relationship of nation to nation and culture to culture—changes not just in how people communicate but in how they understand their lives.”
That same year, St. John Paul II wrote
“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.”
With all our zooming, we have just begun to speak the digital language.
Now, we must go on to understand the culture and its impact on those we serve...
Former Superior General Gregory Gay challenged Vincentians over ten years ago…
“I have two questions to pose to you for your reflection.
“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?
Some 25 years ago, the Final Document of the 1998 Congregation of the Mission General Assembly presciently made the connection:
“We are entering into an era of information technology which brings with it unrecognized, and therefore even more insidious forms of poverty.
If the poor remain without access to information technology, they will be further marginalized and locked into a cycle of poverty.”
“We are currently seeing a two-tier education becoming solidified with children who lack of access to computers or parents poorly prepared to guide them. Their parents will increasingly be locked into jobs that will perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Waking up to a new form of poverty
As Vincentians, we need to recognize how this two-tier education will reinforce the already existing structures of poverty.
STRUCTURAL information poverty should be a concern of all the followers of Vincent and Louise.
Allow me to modify Vincent’s well-known words: “The Vincentian Family is not now what it once was. Nor is it what it is called to be.”
Let us wake up to this new form of poverty!
- Am I aware that the “digital revolution” is much more profound than just using email, or “binge-watching ?
- How conscious am I of the long-term consequences of the structural dimensions of information poverty?
- Do I ask with Vincent, “What must be done ” to serve in a digital culture?