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From Asia to cyberspace, it’s a two-way world

NCR has been devoting a fair bit of space to the upcoming Synod for Asia, and we will continue to track the story as it develops. It’s a fascinating tale, involving fundamental questions of theology and pitting a Roman view of evangelization, with its accent on proclamation, against the Asian bishops’ in-the-trenches desire to focus on witness. One temptation in thinking about the synod, however, is to compartmentalize it -- to regard it as an “Asian” story and hence to see it as interesting (especially, perhaps, for the display of Asian episcopal backbone) but ultimately of little relevance for the Western here and now.

Such a reaction is natural but wrong. In that light, John Allen’s cover story on the church and the Internet is especially timely and instructive.

At the end of March, a star-studded lineup of almost 60 bishops from North and South America and the Vatican gathered in Denver to talk about evangelization and the new media technologies. There, the prelates heard from ambassadors of the digital domain that cyberspace, too, has a culture with its own customs and traditions. Citizens of cyberspace, like their Asian counterparts, resent approaches to evangelization based on “proclamation,” to the extent that it translates into “we have the answers and you don’t.”

Indeed, Allen wishes to remind us, the nature of the new media is to promote interactivity, participation and dialogue -- all of which tend not to blend easily with “proclamation.” People are being empowered by these new tools, and they will increasingly expect to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

So this tension between “proclamation” and “witness,” between “one-way” and “two-way” exchanges, is not really an Asian story, except to the extent that it’s flaring up there just now. The question of whether the church talks at -- or with -- the peoples of the world is an old one, but if the experts in Denver are to be believed, the cultural balance may be shifting away from diktat in favor of dialogue.

If that’s true, it’s good news for the church in Asia, certainly, but it’s equally good news everywhere.

This shift, in other words, is a very “catholic” story.

After you have read Dorothy Vidulich’s great little story about Francis Moroney’s courageous plan to cycle across America to raise money for the country’s aging religious, come right back here for the address or phone number to make your pledge. There can hardly be a more worthy cause under the sun. I’m sure no one will object if we mention the sisters in particular, most of whom lived lives of considerable austerity for the sake of that elusive kingdom. The address is: SOAR, 1400 Spring St., Suite 320, Silver Spring MD 20910; or phone: 301-589-9811.

It is no secret that the Web, including its manifestation here at NCR, is in constant evolution. One example is the message board. NCR’s has been a lively place and served a purpose that we now think calls for further evolution. This is a long way of saying our message board is for the moment terminated as we plan its successor. Meanwhile, NCR types can reach us not only in the old-fashioned paper way but via our letters page on NCR Online, where you will be informed how easiest to submit all kinds of opinions.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 17, 1998