The Church exists to bring people into communication with God. From inter mirifica through communio et progressio, social communication has always been employed as one of the important dimensions of the mission of the Church. Subsequent to the final promulgation of Vatican II documents, episcopal Social Communications commissions were established. Today, Social Communications departments permeate the Catholic Arch/dioceses of countries worldwide. Naturally, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has always considered social communications as a critical element of its mission. What is CBCN’s philosophy of Social Communications? What’s the Bishops forum agenda in 2021? How has the Catholic Church, Nigeria fared in Social Communications compared to its contemporaries in other countries? The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU took these questions to the Episcopal Chairman, Directorate of Social Communications, CBCN, the Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha Archdiocese and titular Bishop of Legia, Roman Province of Numidia, Algeria, Most. Rev. Denis Chidi Isizoh who recently clocked 65 years. Read excerpts of the interview.
You are currently the Chairman, Social Communications department of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), what is CBCN’s philosophy of Social Communications? What is CBCN’s agenda for Social Communications in 2021?
If you list the mission of the Church, Christ, though God, came in human flesh among us, he suffered, died and rose from the dead and saved us. And He sent His Disciples on a mission to the whole world to announce the Good News. This mission involves communication, it is communicative. The Letter of Paul to the Romans, Chapter 10 verse 13 states, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then can they call on the one whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they without someone to preach, how can they hear? And how can they preach unless they are sent. So the mission of the Church, Christ’s mission is to reach out to people, to communicate the Good News, so that is what the Catholic Church is doing also, including the CBCN, to announce the Good News of salvation to people and that involves the use of the Social Communications department. That is what we do. You asked about agenda for 2021, the agenda would still be to announce the Good News. But in announcing that Good News, there are new ways of communicating, new methods of communications, new technologies, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) Social Communications department would want to use the best communications technology available. So this year some of the things that are being developed, we want to try them at the Catholic Secretariat this time. Thanks to the new Director of Communications that we have, he is developing some ways of communicating better and that will manifest somehow in this year, 2021.
We would like you to highlight some of these new things the National Director of Social Communications is coming up with.
I think we should allow him to develop them first because some of them will require approval from the Administrative Board. So he is creating new ways of communicating. He will present them to the Administrative Board first, and when certified and approved, then he can work on them.
How has the Catholic Church, Nigeria fared in Social Communications compared to its contemporaries in other countries?
One simple answer I will give is that we are not lagging behind if we compare ourselves with those around us but you know that the area of information technology evolves every year and so we are trying to catch up. When internet came out first, we thought we have seen the last, we have seen everything. Many more areas of science are starring us in the face and we are working very hard not to lag behind, to be up to date, so the Communications Department of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria is working very hard, thanks again to the new Director of Social Communications, who is working very hard to introduce the Catholic Church in Nigeria to these new areas of science of communications. But comparing with others, those around us, is not the best practice. It makes us sometimes to use the low standards around us to measure our achievement. So I do not wish that we compare ourselves with countries around us or our contemporaries. I would say, we compare ourselves with ourselves, we use our own immediate past to judge ourselves today. Can we do better than we have done in the past? Tomorrow, we want to do better than what we are doing today. So I do not really rush to have this comparison of what our contemporaries are doing but to strive to do better than ourselves each time. What can we do better than what we have done in the past? That is what I would like to say about this comparison with ourselves and other countries around us.
Your Lordship, we would like you to share some positive developments currently going on in the Catholic Media Practitioners’ Association of Nigeria (CAMPAN), Catholic Artists’ and Entertainers’ Association of Nigeria (CAEAN) and SIGNIS?
If I look at the first two organisations, CAMPAN and then, CAEAN, one thing that has happened in the last one year was that they are gradually coming together from different parts of Nigeria, they are working together. Before, some areas were developed better than others, but now they come together, they speak with one voice, they want to do things together, they share information; that is what has happened with CAMPAN and CAEAN. CAEAN has even developed a unique initiative. Every Sunday, they dramatise the homily and that is beautiful, they share them with many people. So, in the area of coming together, working together, they have improved a lot and I’m happy about that. When people start working to gether and they start sharing resources, they start sharing information, expect sharing of their expertise, I see that working among the CAEAN and CAMPAN people. SIGNIS, under the current leadership, has done particularly well. The other year, the members toured the whole country to make different States and Dioceses aware of the work they do, and that is very positive. Now they are back in Abuja. Many of these places they visited, they are working together as a team, SIGNIS branches, different places working together and that again is something positive. And through SIGNIS World, the SIGNIS Nigeria, has helped many Dioceses to seek grant to support various projects in the areas of communications. And personally, I have tried to invite all the Directors of Social Communications to be part of SIGNIS Nigeria. And they are doing well.
We would like to know what the future looks like for CAMPAN, CAEAN and SIGNIS.
The future is in God’s hand. We can’t predict the future, it’s in God’s hands. Our fate is in God’s hands. We do well on our own bit by bit, here and there, we do the planting of good seeds, God makes the seeds germinate, God makes the seeds grow, flower and produce better fruits. So if we keep on doing our best here and now, I hope, that CAMPAN, CAEAN and SIGNIS will help us improve our communications skills in the future. I hope that they would do better in the future but that future is in God’s hand.
You are also the Titular Bishop of Legia in the Roman Province of Numidia, now part of Algeria. What are your responsibilities in this official capacity?
The point is that in the Catholic Church, you can’t think of a Catholic Bishop without a Diocese, it is part of being a Bishop. Because once a person is made a Bishop and a Shepherd, he is assigned a place to work, a place that will be his responsibility. So, every Bishop has a See, so whenever, somebody is nominated a Bishop, he is named to a Diocese. The titular Dioceses are those that were active in the past but now there are very few people there and they are no longer very active in the Catholic Church. The Church does not send new Bishops with titular titles to work in those places today. Legia is in Algeria, to which I was assigned to work, I have not visited the place myself but I was informed that now there are very few Christians in Legia. I hope at some point to go there and see the place, to see the things they are doing there but I do not have any official responsibility to that place. It’s just a title, because I’m a Bishop in the Catholic Church and I must have a See. My major assignment as a Bishop is in the Archdiocese of Onitsha where I’m appointed to assist the Archbishop. Having a title of the Bishop of Legia means that I’m fully a Bishop and I do not derive my episcopal powers from the Archbishop and I’m not his Episcopal Vicar because he did not appoint me. Both of us brought from the same source were given the primary responsibility of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, and by assisting, and that is where I’m working, not Legia.
You just clocked sixty-five years; 11 years more than life expectancy of a Nigerian male. How grateful are you to God Almighty?
Really! (He laughs) Eleven years more than I’m expected to live, is that correct?
How did you come about this? Who told you that, that is our life expectancy?
United Nations Population Division.
I think we have come to a point where we reject this definition of life expectancy imposed on us from outside. God gives life. Some die young, others die old, for different reasons people die at different times. A few years ago I buried a young mother who died at the age of 41. But the other time I buried another person who died at the age of 126. There are records to show, 126 years old before he died. He saw four generations from her. So life is God’s gift, I’m profoundly grateful to God for His gift. Even more profoundly grateful I’m for the gift of the Christian faith, and in gratitude to Christ, even me He chose as His Priest, it is impossible for me to express how grateful I’m to God. With my whole heart I thank Him, I say, ‘Ad majorem Dei gloriam’ (to God’s greater glory), that is what I would say. I can’t even express it because it’s a gratifier’s gift.
Please share your life experiences at 65.
I do not really have anything to share except to say that in my life, God is giving Himself more glory. Throughout my life, I have never particularly sort advantages for myself. At every stage in my life I try to do well. I do not get it right every time, sometimes, I make mistakes, and seek for pardon, human beings pardon. I do not take pride in doing better than my neighbour or colleagues. I work hard to be better than my old self, I thank God for many people I have so far encountered in my life. When I close my eyes and think, I remember specific things I learnt from them. I tell you many great people have passed my way in this world these 65 years. Sometimes, the things we learn may not be very positive here and now, such negative things will also teach us not to do them when we are dealing with other people. Overall, I’m grateful for these 65 years. My prayer always is : ‘O God help me to do well in any assignment you give me. Every positive thing I achieve is Your own doing, please do not allow me to spoil to Your good work in me and in others.’
‘Come and See: Communicating, Encountering People as and Where they are’ is theme of the World Communications Day 2021. What does this theme indicate for Nigeria’s media?
What I want to say is this, this is the theme for this year. Each Diocesan Director, each Arch/Diocese is making effort to develop this theme. I do not want to set the tone for this theme now. In the coming days, we shall have the opportunity to develop the theme in various Arch/Dioceses in Nigeria. Let me allow the creativity of our media people to shine. Social Communication Directors are encouraged to organize a seminar for this theme, so after that they will put it together and say this is what this means for the Nigeria’s media but now let me allow their creativity to materialise.
Let’s take a look at the ‘Aggiornamento’ of the Second Vatican Council in throwing open the windows of the Church to the outside world. Would you say that Catholic media is catching up with the rest of the Church in implementing this activity?
The science of communication is changing every day in our own time. Every person is running here and there, the Catholic media is making effort to catch up, the whole world, not just Nigeria, not the Catholic Church only but also every aspect of life, people are trying to catch up, we must work very hard to utilize the development in communications technology to announce the Good News, that’s the effort we are making. To announce the Good News using the best means of communication, best methods available. The ‘Aggiornamento’ is something that is ongoing. Pope John XXIII in 1959 asked the Church to open the windows of the Church, of the sacristy, of our homes, let fresh air come in. Let us breathe fresh air. It’s ongoing, the windows are thrown open and they must remain open. We always need fresh air in our rooms than in our Church, so we are catching up, but we are still moving forward in the Church, no end yet, we don’t even want it to end because God indicates here and there how we are going to go about the work of evangelization, the Holy Spirit does that very well, it blows wherever the Holy Spirit wants to go and we follow that. Aggiornamento, it has no end, it’s something that is ongoing in the Church.
What do you think are some of the challenges facing the Catholic media today?
If we want to first of all focus on the problems the media in Nigeria is experiencing, if we want to use the time of this COVID-19. Coronavirus started first. For many months what we were seeing was what other people outside were sending to us. I don’t know whether to say that our media people are lazy but they were afraid to go to battlefield, you know what I mean by battlefield, to go there, collect data and give situation of things happening in our country. We did not see that, we were frightened by what they were sending us from overseas, we started shouting. Let them go to the field and give us correct information. Somehow, in general, the media people in Nigeria sometime, they want to have maybe money or incentive to do their work in Nigeria. That is not good news for us. They should be eager to go to the field and inform us on what is going on around us and help to form the way we think, form the way we work, so that one is not found lacking. It’s a challenge that somehow, our media people don’t go to the correct places to give us correct information. There are some of them doing that now but in the past it was not clear. If I take the Catholic media, I don’t want to take that now I want to talk about the Nigerian situation. One of the major positive developments in the area of communication is that the instrument for news transmission is in the hands of very many people. If somebody with a mobile phone can send out very important information to various parts of the world, and people get it everywhere, that is something positive, news spread faster, we learn things easily without having to wait for the official news media of the state and of the Church. Today, we are better informed and perhaps, better formed. Many people who are capable of sharing good news of salvation, they are limited by some factors. Let’s mention for example, one of the major challenges is fund, fund for news coverage to travel out to get better instrument. The Catholic media, they lack fund. That’s all. It makes it difficult for them to cover news and events and then, when they are sharing the Good News coming from different persons, sometimes, false news is spread, you get false news, erroneous information, the Catholic media before you are ready with news or whatever, false news has been spread all around, that is not good for the Church, that is not good for the world. Then apart from this false news, the Catholic media have people poorly trained, not well trained, therefore, they are not capable of covering the news, covering the areas they should because they are not prepared well. What do we do? These are the areas we think that they are challenged and we must work hard to train people, work hard to enable them cover areas better and then also help them to have the courage to go to difficult places to cover news.