By Barb Arland-Fye
“… [W]e are at our best when we gather in community. We know that we can accomplish anything when we come together.” Those words of wisdom apply to our culture and our Church today where so many of us long for community and reconciliation. The author of those words had a specific audience in mind, professionals in Catholic media, like myself. “The Catholic Media Conference is our community,” Rob DeFrancesco, executive director of the Catholic Media Association, said in his welcoming statement in the 2023 Catholic Media Conference program.
He challenged the 300+ attendees of the June 7-9 conference to “make the most of our time together. Break out of your comfort zone, meet new people, and build new relationships … Be a mentor to someone and share your wisdom and experiences.”
I accepted the challenge while also searching out familiar colleagues with whom to reconnect and build on relationships cultivated in years past. One of my colleagues fits into a separate category, which I’ll call the virtual relationship. While we have a good working relationship via Zoom and email, I had never met in person with Dawn Prosser, communications director of Lumen Media for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. Our dioceses are on opposite ends of Iowa and the pandemic discouraged in-person visits.
Now, more than 1,000 miles from Iowa, we finally had the opportunity to connect in person, which I believe strengthened the relationship. Virtual communication has benefits — such as making it possible for me to get together with my Emmaus group — whose members live in different cities miles apart. But words cannot describe the power of in-person connection.
I discovered that last year while attending the 2022 Catholic Media Conference virtually. No networking over lunch or dinner, no opportunity to bump into someone in a hallway for spontaneous brainstorming. It is too easy to multitask while attending a conference or webinar virtually. Not the best way to build relationships or community.
So, what did Dawn think of this year’s Catholic Media Conference, her first? “I appreciated making connections with people in person — some I had emailed or called for information and some I had never met. I met so many new people that I ran out of business cards. Everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful.”
“One especially helpful session was the session for editors of Spanish publications, podcasts and other platforms. The bilingual Hispanic participants really wanted the Anglo/English-only speakers to understand what’s important to our Hispanic faithful and how we could best reach them.”
Dawn added, “It’s reassuring to know small shops and large shops are all working to the same end — sharing the Catholic faith, informing and hopefully inspiring the diverse demographics in all our dioceses.”
Pope Francis, in his message for the 57th World Day of Social Communications (published Jan. 24, 2023), said “we have a pressing need in the Church for communication that kindles hearts, that is balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters. I dream of an ecclesial communication that knows how to let itself be guided by the Holy Spirit, gentle and at the same time, prophetic, that knows how to find new ways and means for the wonderful proclamation it is called to deliver in the third millennium….”
That’s why we come together, as Catholic media professionals but also as members of a society that needs us to show “we can accomplish anything when we come together.”
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)