“The internet does not only offer us a variety of media with which to transmit the Good News,but has given birth to a new culture altogether” Fr Robert Tanto
Interviewed by Martin Jumbam and Ireneanus Chia Chongwain
The internet is gradually becoming an assertive evangelisation tool and one of its early adaptors is the Diocese of Kumbo.In this interview Fr Robert Tanto, incharge of Social Communications says among others things say many priests and lay faithful are not showing much interest on the internet.
I have always strived to use existing media and seek new ones to communicate the message of the Gospel, especially to young people. In many ways, these young people have helped me to be forward looking, somewhat of a visionary. Modern communications, particularly the internet, do not only offer us a variety of media with which to transmit the Good News but have given birth to a ‘new culture’. How could a catechist, like me, or anyone involved in the work of evangelisation, hope to integrate the message of Christ into this culture if he fails to use the means available, which are responsible for the new culture? That is why I use the most appropriate means to answer the challenges posed by the new culture. Working with young people I felt the challenge to be always creative, inventive, looking for the “in-thing” and being up to date, at least, in the knowledge of fashions, styles, expressions and so on. The spirit to embrace new methods and try new skills was daily nurtured in me.
The progression seems to me only natural: I used chalk a lot when I depended on the chalk board to get the message across; I used paper an awful lot in group dynamics, then I waded into what I consider the age of the audio tape. I collected loads of tapes and a wide range of musicians that were in vogue in the 60s and 70s; then came the age of the telephone, the camera, then fax, then computer, computer fax and the internet is the latest, the most inviting perhaps, but also the most challenging of the media. It is now the “in-thing”. And attached to it is the Digital Camera! It all comes to me as a process of growth and advancement in my job of communicating the message of the Gospel.
The internet needs constant back up technical services. Do you have the qualified manpower to provide these services in Kumbo?
For technical services, we have a well trained, very dedicated young man at the service of the diocese. Mr Bernard Kong was groomed by the Diocesan Youth Ministry of Kumbo. We have a partnership with the Diocese of Limburg in Germany where he was trained and came back home to set up the Diocesan Printing and Communications Centre (PCC) of which he is the pioneer and current Manager. He offers in-service training to those with whom he runs the Centre. We have another young man, Bernard Afor, whom we sponsored to train at Bamenda to run the Binju-Nkambe Internet Café and maintain the system. There is Denis Tarawo, who manages the Cyber Café at the Diocesan Youth Centre, who was also trained in Bamenda With the services of these three we do manage to keep our set up and running, although we do not hesitate to call on outside assistance when the need arises.
How accessible is the internet in the Kumbo Diocese to priests, the religious and other lay pastoral workers? Priests, Religious and all Lay Pastoral Workers serving in any office in the Bishop’s House Complex now have computers and internet service as a regular component of office equipment. Currently, there is a study to extend the internet services of PCC to the Diocesan Pastoral Centre and to the Minor Seminary in Kitiwum. Priests, religious and lay people have easy access to the Cyber Cafés situated at PCC (near the Diocesan Garage) and at the John Paul II Youth Centre. Priests are even offered browsing time at a rate lower than the general public. The Binju-Nkambe Cyber Café in Nkambe Town is open to the general public including priests, religious and lay pastoral workers. The browsing time at Nkambe is cheaper than at Kumbo and has the same rate for all. Although the internet services have been put within the reach of everybody, there are, unfortunately some priests and religious and lay pastoral workers who do not show any interest in it at all.
Does the Diocese of Kumbo have any comprehensive policy or guidelines as far as the internet is concerned?
As I just said, some priests and pastoral workers do not show any interest in the internet, not even in the use of the computer for regular work. Quite a few blame their lack of interest on the lack of computers in the places where they serve. As of now the Diocese of Kumbo does not have any comprehensive policy about the use of the internet. The former bishop strongly advised priests to get into the use of computers to run their parishes and even indicated that the responsibility devolved on the Finance Committees of Parishes to budget for and acquire computers for the parishes. But I suppose it takes a very interested priest to convince his Finance Committee that such an expensive gadget is a worthwhile investment for the parish.
The internet poses enormous challenges not only to contemporary society, in general, and the Church, in particular. What measures, if any, has the Diocese put in place to ensure the appropriate use of the internet by its faithful?
The Diocese has taken steps to make the internet accessible to many people, which is an indication of the Diocese’s appreciation of this tool in evangelisation. Apart from the services offered at Kumbo and Nkambe, there is also a website for the Binju-Nkambe Parish, which is being visited by many people all over the world; there is also the Kumbo-Limburg website, which opens up for study and understanding the partnership that exists between the two dioceses. Apart from the courses offered to young people at the Diocesan Youth Centre, at PCC and at the Girls and Boys Town Cyber-Café of Binju-Nkambe, there is little or no formal training for priests, religious and lay pastoral workers on the use of the media and of the internet in particular. People need training to be able to use the internet in their work. Some have never looked at the websites I just referred to, because they are not able to face the technology.
There is a great but unanswered need for professional training for those directly involved in the media. They need both doctrinal and spiritual formation to be able to function appropriately in the media for the good of the Church. One notes with regret that the internet tends to distance children from their parents. Some parents even attempt to stop their children browsing. That is futile. There is no stopping of young people and children becoming more familiar with the internet than their parents. And since most parents are basically internet illiterate, one would expect our schools to teach the young children who come to them the skills to use the internet so as to distinguish the bad from the good and make right choices when they eventually get fully exposed to it.
What is the situation in our Catholic colleges?
Our Catholic Colleges are not yet including internet fee in their tuition or providing internet services to their students. This, to me, constitutes a loss of opportunities for the young people who attend our schools to receive proper education in the use of this new technology. I think this is a dangerous neglect. The argument that we may lose students if we increase the fees by including an internet-use levy is not credible to me. We are probably losing students to other institutions because we fail to provide access to the internet which they easily find elsewhere. By failing to provide them with adequate and relevant internet and computer training, we are failing to prepare them to face the world that is increasingly becoming ever more secularised. I believe that if we want our young people to be the good and successful citizens of the state and the church today and tomorrow, then we must train them in the use of modern technological innovations such as the internet.
Listening to you, Father, it would seem not much is being done in the Kumbo Diocese to promote evangelisation through the internet.
The two websites: for Binju-Nkambe Parish and for Kumbo-Limburg are small beginnings to do evangelisation via the internet. Celebrations of faith events that get put on the websites are read by many both in the country and out of the country. Many people have come to know our pastoral strategies through these websites. Interestingly, I noticed many non-Catholics browsing our website in Nkambe and writing questions to me about events they read on the website. Our sister Churches in Europe have appreciated some of the efforts we make locally and contributed to the building of our infrastructure, thanks to the information they get on the internet. The internet has replaced a bogus library in my case. I find very easy access to the documents of the Church, to Theological Discussions and Scientific Research.
When I still ran Catholic Programmes on the Donga-Mantung Community Radio, the internet was my immediate source of Catholic news and meditation on various topics. The feedback I got was that many people who listened to my radio programmes got attracted to the Catholic Church, or at least got a little insight into what the Catholic Church is all about. A lot more could be done if more people learnt to use the internet.
What future for the internet in Kumbo?
I think the internet has come to stay. The challenges are enormous, but it is one of those things which tend to survive better in difficulties. You see, the internet department of the Girls and Boys Town Project in Binju-Nkambe suffered terrible damages by lightning. For four months, it was out of function. Many said it was Father Tanto’s business and since Tanto was moving to Tobin the service had ended. But because the users had been exposed to so much and had come to depend on the internet for many things, many of them kept appealing to us to make it work again. We did reinstate it at a terrific cost. But the good news is that more young people are registering for training, and the users are pouring into the café.
The Church has always been at the forefront of communication because her essential mission is to communicate Christ to the world. That is how she is missionary and not maintenance. It is a fact of history that from the time of Christ the Church has never fallen behind in her choice of the best means to communicate Christ. The Church cannot begin now to take half measures and go for the second best.
The internet is not the only means of communicating Christ to the world but it is the most appropriate means to integrate the Good News of Jesus Christ in the new culture in which the Church finds herself. The universal Catholic Church is reaching out more easily by means of the internet; the Church in Cameroon cannot afford to stay out of this outreach.