By Fr. Giorgio Licini, PIME
May 28 was declared World Communications Day; It is no coincidence that Pope Francis’ s reminder to spread the Word of God comes a week before Pentecost. In Hong Kong, Fr. Gianni Giampietro, PIME, is among the promoters of a school course.
It’s not an everyday occurrence that one gets to sit across from an 83- year-old priest and be told: “Today we are going to talk about online evangelization.” Yet, this is the work of Fr. Gianni Giampietro, PIME Missionary for nearly sixty years in the now former British colony of Hong Kong. His experience stands as a testament that the teachings of the Gospel can move through even the most unconventional of channels, including those of the Internet and Social Media. “For us Christians, the proper perspective needed to decipher reality can only be that of the Good News or more specifically: the ”Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” writes Pope Francis in his message for World Communications Day, which is celebrated on May 28, the Sunday before Pentecost, after all, the goal of all Catholics is simple: to communicate the Good News par excellence, the Gospel of Jesus.
Thanks to his mission work in Hong Kong, for about twenty years now, Fr. Gianni Giampietro has understood the potential of online-evangelization; this is due in part to a group of young people from the Parish of the Resurrection, who gathered to sing and play Christian music. “Many young people in Hong Kong have relatives abroad,” he explains, “sometimes almost their whole family. Through their contacts, these young music enthusiasts have found that other Chinese youths were doing the same thing, especially in Australia and New Zealand. After several years of establishing web-contacts, it was decided to organize a concert with all these groups here in Hong Kong. They featured modern Chinese songs, but imbued with the Christian spirit. It was a great success. It was for this reason that, later on, our Hong Kong group went to Canada. It was from that event that the EV Concert format (Evangelization Concert): plays, songs, and testimonies all shared via the Internet, was born. Simply put, it was evangelization but through music, with young people and for young people.“
Thanks to these young peoples’ contacts, Fr. Gianni and his staff realized that, in many communities of the population scattered about China, there are no catechists or other persons who may accompany those who want to prepare for Baptism. Thus, FOJP (Friends of Jesus Passover, Friends of the Passion of Jesus), the first training courses for catechists entirely online, came about. It is a two-year long online course that encompasses the teaching of the Catholic catechism in the first year, and a concrete, real-life activity of evangelization in the second. Each week the material takes about three hours to complete, about the same amount of time it would take in a parish setting: “For priests it is not easy, sometimes, to accept this solution. They would like to see people physically every week,” said Fr. Gianni, “but in some cases, it is not possible, especially due to work demands or travel-related issues that it would entail. I remember one such case in Australia. The person in question was in jail for illegal immigration issues. He had known of pastoral workers who visited the penitentiary, but how could he participate in the catechumenate in the parish from behind bars? Then there are all those parishes and catechists who cannot reach a parish in order to participate.”
Volunteers from the FOJP always contact the nearest parish when someone asks to participate in the catechumenate courses. “Why, then, not just give online baptism!” says Fr. Gianni in jest. “Of course when the priests are truly into something everything is easier, otherwise there might be problems. But we never want to have is a parallel activity to the one run by the parish. It would be nice if priests could appreciate more and more the potential of online activities.”
Just how can you become catechumens via the Internet? From the homepage EVSchool.net, you can select courses in three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and English) from there, you gain access to an introduction about the nature of our online school. After signing up, “It’s at that point that people come into contact with us and we with them. A course starts when there are about fifteen participants to make it more worthwhile. The activity is not conceived as a “remote” school or a textbook from which to extract the various chapters of the Catechism. Rather, it was conceived as an online community. “The online catechumenate is an encounter,” says Fr. Gianni, “participants are placed in email contact with each other and often wonderful friendships are born. Some priests do not believe that online communities can be created. I would point out to them that it is possible and very real. Jesus says that where two or three are gathered in His name He is present. Every day I experience that to be true.”
Once the catechumenate is completed, the second program is optional but many participate, as they fervently want to become evangelizers themselves. They can also register those who participated in the traditional catechumenate in parishes. During the first year, the participant studies and must pass an examination on seven subjects: Evangelization in the Bible and in Church documents; History of evangelization; Evangelization in Asia today; The main religions in Asia; Liturgy and mass media. In the second year, however, members must put together a practical project of evangelization and, upon implementation, to submit a final report. All this is, of course, under the guidance of school administrators from a distance: the general coordinator of the course lives in Australia, the database administrator lives in Canada, and the Secretary-General is in Hong Kong.
“Many participate in both the online catechumenate courses that the school of evangelization provides. Some will then also engage themselves as online catechists. The missionary journeys of the young musicians have produced this initiative;” Fr. Gianni explains, “a bit like St. Paul when he went around, saw the needs and looked for solutions. Here we are dealing with “the Chinese diaspora,” the transmission belt between the mother country and other nations, the world’s peoples and their cultures. As far as I am concerned, I believe that evangelizing Chinese living overseas means evangelizing China itself.”