Port Moresby, February, 14th, 2018 ((Fr. Ambrose Pereira sdb). Papua New Guinea occasionally known as ‘the Land of the Unexpected’ sits on the ring of fire and is prone to regular volcanic activity, earthquakes, cyclones and tidal waves.  A Melanesian country with nearly seven million inhabitants and over 700 native languages, it is perhaps the most diverse country on the planet.  Nearly 80% of its people live in isolated mountainous rural villages with few or no modern facilities.  Many tribes have little contact with each other and are often afraid of each other.  The country has limited infrastructure.  This in turn has its effect on economic activity and service delivery.

The Social Communications department (SOCOM, the SIGNIS member in the country) is one of the many departments of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.  It is the voice of the church striving to link the church hierarchy and its people, make known its different activities and programs, promote the voice of the Church in the public arena, interact with the vast world of both Christian and secular media, develop media education and awareness, and form Church media operators.

“We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing.  Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.” (EG171)

As part of the PNGSI Conference Pastoral Plan, SOCOM focuses on three specific actions: Information, Formation and Liaising. 

Disseminating relevant information on Church activities and concerns through the internet and social media, by means of radio, TV and print.  It does so through the monthly Catholic Reporter, published in Papua New Guinea as an insert of the Wantok Niuspepa.  The articles in the paper draw media attention to issues of particular social, moral and religious concern.

Promoting media awareness and education courses, workshops, seminars and symposia to different levels of church and society.  Courses are regularly held for clergy, pastoral workers, seminarians, students, youth, etc.  A program that is much appreciated is the Media Education Seminars for students of the senior schools.  It has given its participants insights into the media and a confidence to express their views on the issues that matter.  “Our media team at school has taken up the challenge of

The International Short Film Festival commenced in 2017.  It has given students and digital natives a platform to express their deepest desires.  The theme for this year is: ‘Youth Alive’ and in this Year of Youth 2018, invites the young to celebrate their achievements.  It hopes that this festival of short films will inspire many to live lives of fidelity, dedication and commitment.

Despite the limitations of infrastructure, the great challenge of helping our digital media natives, create and upload content that is positive, respectful and inspiring has proved to be a challenge.  Social media has occasionally been the source of violence, tension and school fights. 

SIGNIS has been the backbone to motivate, encourage and inspire SOCOM.  Due to its thrust, confidence has built up to ensure that communications is a vital part of the church and its many activities.  Through its various projects the different dioceses have reawakened the possibility of connection and communications with its people.  A few dioceses have radio stations, a vital link to connect with people scattered across rough and rugged terrain.  Several more see this as relevant and are gradually awakening to the idea of interactions and connections.  A new initiative has been the CBC website (pngsicbc.com), that has a space for each of the dioceses.  It is also hoped that each diocese would have its own links via the digital world.

Developing a ‘Culture of Encounter’, encouraged by Pope Francis, is a constant challenge in this top heavy society.  Establishing a connection with the media personnel in the different dioceses is a work in progress. It is hoped that the National and Regional Media Programs will better enhance common values, communication strategies and positive messages of people at the level of policy and at the grass-root levels.

May we do our part to ‘Spread the Light!’ (Jn 1:8).:8.