Students in many parts of the world have relocated a good portion of their life and education online. They are not just spending their time there, but they are finding their sources of information and authorities online.
The question arises spontaneously: Who is their source of information on topics like religion, relationships and lifestyle? Who offers them answers about the meaning of life?
As Pope Francis recalls in his 2019 World Communications Day Message, the digital world is “indistinguishable from the sphere of everyday life.” It is changing the way humanity accumulates knowledge, disseminates information, and develops relationships.
Religion teachers in Croatia responded to the call and took a ride on the digital highway.
For several months now, they have been voluntarily implementing a web portal project “Mreže Riječi”, which they launched with the support of the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of Split-Makarska.
Their goal is to motivate and educate not only students, but also all those on digital highways who want to learn more on Church and other topics from Christian perspective.
Bold steps into new fields
Nenad Palac, Ph.D, one of the religion teachers who started the web portal project, spoke to Vatican News about the goals of the initiative. “As religion teachers, we want to be part of this revolution and boldly step into new fields,” he said.
Although the mission of religion teachers is primarily related to classrooms, members of the initiative have decided to change that image. Once they have seen that the habits of their students had changed, missing out on the benefits of online presence was not an option.
“We are aware that our students spend almost a third of their day on their phones. We want to be present with them on these journeys, provide them with quality content, and ultimately lead them to an encounter with the living Christ, in communion,” said Dr. Palac.
As of September 2023, the web portal counts over 30 associates, consecrated and lay people, all volunteers.
They include religion teachers, some with additional education, such as psychotherapy or a doctorate in different fields of studies.
They also include other experts from Caritas and the ones engaged in social, medical and other professions who then create content in their fields of interest.
Evangelizing as a community
The portal offers a wide range of content, from news of the Church to various columns with advices on practical life issues. Also, the group produces a podcast and Gospel reflections, as well as videos every week in which the biblical scholar interprets the Sunday Gospel.
“The mission of the portal is to convey Christian values in a simple and practical way. To be a guide for a successful, good and quality life. That’s why it is important for us to have the Gospel as the focus of the platform,” according to Professor Jadranka Garmaz, Ph.D, the head of the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of Split-Makarska.
The fruits of online catechesis are visible even just a few months after the portal was launched. First of all, Prof. Garmaz emphasized in an interview with Vatican News, the fruits include “a great community between religion teachers and other colleagues that was formed.”
This online communion fits the goals of pastoral reflection “Towards full presence”, a document produced by the Vatican Dicastery for Communication (Vatican News’ parent organization). The document urges the Church to work together online, as a community and not as individuals.
The point is not to act so much as “individual influencers,” according to the document, but as “weavers of communion”: pooling our talents and skills, sharing knowledge and contributions.
Spreading Christianity with quality content
Prof. Garmaz agreed with the need to spread the Gospel together, with a focus on quality content.
“We aim to enhance the abilities of religion teachers and instruct them to leave their digital mark on our digital continent. Our aim is to enhance their abilities to showcase the Christian lifestyle with quality,” she said.
While working on the project, the team of the web portal discovered a host of unknown talents, which the members are now teaching others. The “School of Digital Word” was established to instruct those interested in podcasting, as well as the “School of the Written and Spoken Word”.
The work of the catechetical team in Croatia highlights how the Christian community can act as a solid ground for creativity by opening new paths to spread the Good News in the digital sphere.