Posted Wednesday, September 1, 2004 at 8:15 a.m. CDT
Technology joins East to West at FABC eighth plenary
Using the latest in technology, NCR was essentially able to produce
a daily morning paper each day for the FABC delegates
By THOMAS C. FOX
We are becoming a global church.
In 1900, 80 percent of the world's Roman Catholics lived in Europe or North America. By the year 2020, 80 percent of the world's Roman Catholics will live outside of Europe and North America. In 120 years, our church has been turned upside down. Another way of looking at this phenomenon is to say our Western church is becoming a global church. Finally, we are earning the word "Catholic," in "Catholicism," which really means "universal."
The Asian church leaders who gathered in Deajeon, South Korea, Aug. 16 to Aug. 23, are acutely aware of the changing demographic makeup of our church. This change has a corollary. It also means that our church is becoming a church of the poor as 50 percent of the earth's population lives on US $2 a day or less -- and most of these people live in Asia. The Asian church is a church of the poor, as Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences' papers have long documented.
Meanwhile, for too many years the stories of Southern and Eastern Catholics, often the most physically marginalized of Catholics, but men and women rich in spirit, have not reached Northern and Western Catholics. These Catholics simply did not have the means to share their "joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties" with the wider church. This is changing now and technology is largely the reason why. Technology is playing a major role in bringing the "People of God" closer together.
Allow me to share with you how technology played a major role in bringing the FABC eighth plenary session to life worldwide on the Internet. This story, in microcosm, is the story of how technology can be used for the greater good of the human family.
Each day, at the Hasang Education Center and seminary, where close to 200 plenary session delegates gathered, I would walk around with my digital camera over one shoulder, a reporter's notebook in my back pants pocket, and a small tape recorder tucked in my shirt pocket. I would do interviews, take notes and snap pictures throughout the day. Then during the evening hours I would go to my computer to write my daily story or stories.
Around eleven o'clock at night I would take a floppy disk from my laptop and a digital disk from my camera and walk them to the seminary computer room. As I did this it would be around nine o'clock in the morning in Kansas City, NCR's home office. That's when I would send my digital files, text and photographs, to the NCR Global Desk, an Internet site in cyberspace.
As my eyelids were dropping, and I was ready to fall asleep, the NCR Web site editorial staff, led by Dennis Coday and Sr. Rita Larivee, was ready to go to work. They would go to our "global desk" and retrieve my work, formatting it for Web pages to post them on NCRonline.org, the NCR Web site. Their work would be completed before I would wake at five o'clock in the morning -- three o'clock in the afternoon in Kansas City. Still waking up, I would go to the seminary computer laboratory, access the Internet, and go to NCRonline.org to read the latest posted daily report on our "church in Asia" special reports page.
I would then print the story I had written the night before, now in Web page form, and make a 150 copies, placing them on a table next to the cafeteria where conference participants gathered for breakfast after morning Mass.
Using the latest in technology, NCR was essentially able to produce a daily morning paper each day for the FABC delegates. It was the same page that any reader who visited the NCR Web site would find for him or herself.
There is a saying in journalism that "all news is local." What journalists mean by this is that people like to read about themselves or people who are like them. As for FABC plenary participants, this was the first time in eight such gatherings that their work was broadcast to the world in Web page format.
UCAN, a Bangkok-based church news service, was also on hand writing reports and broadcasting them daily on the worldwide web. NCR and UCAN are two means by which the East is sharing its information and stories with the wider church as never before in its history.
The FABC gathering also allowed me to shamelessly share my recent book, Pentecost in Asia, with conference participants. The book is the story of the development of the FABC over the past 30 years.
One afternoon, after having given a copy of my book to Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, he came up to me smiling, saying he had been reading it and enjoying it. His statement was every author's dream come true. The cardinal then asked if I would autograph a dozen copies so he could hand deliver them to the presidents of the various national episcopal conferences during a planned FABC executive session the next day. I quickly obliged. It had been my hope while writing the book that it would be a means of connecting East and West, letting the West know more about the East's very hopeful story of church.
We live in the "information age." It can be fast and disruptive. It can also bring the world's peoples closer together. Increasingly, NCR is making the effort to tell the stories of this changing human family of ours, often the kind of stories that do not get told unless NCR is there to do the work. It is our contribution to building our global church.
The FABC eighth plenary was one example.
[Fox is publisher
of the National Catholic Reporter and author of Pentecost in Asia, a book
about the Asian churches. His e-mail address is