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Joseph Phiri, a youth at St Theresa's Cathedral, Livingstone, Zambia setting up for live streaming of the Eucharist Joseph Phiri, a youth at St Theresa's Cathedral, Livingstone, Zambia setting up for live streaming of the Eucharist 

Church without borders – a Zambian parish reflects on the use of social media

Due to COVID-19, Zambia's Livingstone Diocese St Theresa’s Cathedral Administrator, Fr. Clifford Mulasikwanda, found himself with an empty Church, a cell phone, small laptop microphone and a second-hand tripod borrowed from a parishioner.

Paul Samasumo - Vatican City

“Definitely, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about many negatives. The coronavirus is a terrible disease that needs to be eradicated. However, the crisis has shockingly led us onto a path we never contemplated just a few weeks ago. With COVID-19, we suddenly had to start streaming the Eucharist live on Facebook. We also suddenly had to increase content on social media and prepare for Easter celebrations and events that would be streamed live. All Churches in Zambia are closed, and the government is encouraging people to Stay at home. In our Cathedral parish, the rate of social media adoption and acceptance by the parishioners came like manna from heaven,” observed the Cathedral Administrator, Fr. Mulasikwanda.

Limitations, challenges with the technology

Necessity is the mother of invention. The Cathedral parish was woefully unprepared for live streaming and an increase in social media content. They did not have the needed equipment.

“So far, we only have my phone -a smartphone, small laptop microphone and a second-hand tripod borrowed from a parishioner. These have so far served us well, though with much struggle. Funds allowing, we would like to acquire the correct video capturing cameras and good microphones. Due to budget constraints, we have also been reliant on free Internet software. Our experience in the parish has taught us that the in-built free software, for audio and video, provided for by Facebook and WhatsApp, is often limited, in terms of functionality. That software is meant for home videos and so on. As a result of the lack of good equipment, the audio quality of our live Mass is often compromised. Parishioners have been understanding, but we cannot take their patience for granted,” Fr. Mulasikwanda said.

People need to see what they hear

Fr. Mulasikwanda says, “In today’s world, people need to see what they hear!  Otherwise, given our limitedness and the circumstances surrounding our parish, we make do with what we have as we slowly seek to improve both on content and the technology used,” he said.

“Aware of the fact that to stream live Spiritual events is costly on data, some parishioners, have even made modest donations and contributions, for the acquisition of data. There are many good people in our parish,” noted Fr. Mulasikwanda

Team of young persons

The Cathedral parish actually already had a Facebook and WhatsApp page managed by a small team of young people supervised by the Cathedral Administrator himself. Initially, these two platforms were mostly for parish administrative announcements and the occasional reflection. Now, they are constantly being updated with content such as Scripture readings, video and audio reflections and uplifting messages. The parish continues use them also for announcements and other useful messages. Daily streaming of Mass is now an important feature that is drawing-in many followers.

Most popular in Zambia are Facebook and WhatsApp

“People on this side of our world appreciate and use the most, Facebook and WhatsApp. These two seem to be quite easily accessible and available, across all classes of people: Men and women, boys and girls, senior citizens and the young, all seem to like Facebook and WhatsApp. As a pastoral worker, managing the Cathedral of St. Theresa’s in Livingstone Diocese, Zambia, I have noticed, with delight, how parishioners appreciate the existence of their official parish Facebook account and WhatsApp page,” observed Fr. Mulasikwanda.

How do you gauge the response to what you are doing?

“We have had the chance to ask many of our parishioners about their feedback. The response has been overwhelming. To give you an example: A parishioner, Anthony Ranjan, who is a Certified Chartered Accountant, told us, ‘Father thanks a lot for the creation of these tools. We appreciate them a lot. They are helping us to follow daily Mass from our homes. Thank you again for the Daily Bible Reflections.’ Another lady, Hilda Tembo, a parishioner from a nearby parish sent us a message about our Facebook page, ‘We thank you for creating the page. It is not only for parishioners of your parish. Even us, we are following you. Yesterday (Easter Vigil) when the Church bell was rung during the Gloria, my family and I came out of the house, we sung along and danced. Father may God bless you.’ Moba Mulenga said this about our Facebook live Mass, ‘We appreciate the Mass. We only need to improve on the audio output. You know there is too echo in an empty Church.’ There are several of our parishioners who hold similar sentiments about the two social media platforms of our parish. Many love the spiritual nourishment and the interconnectedness that these tools have created,” Fr. Mulasikwanda said.

You never know where the Spirit blows

When asked what he would you say to other parish priests or ministers who feel a little intimidated, challenged or reluctant to embrace social media for evangelisation, Fr. Mulasikwanda had this to say:

“The comments from our followers has made us aware that we have created a Church without borders, without boundaries. The people of God hunger for the Word of God during these challenging moments. Every minister of religion, who positively uses social media, certainly does not have a limited audience. You never know where the Spirit blows. Through social media, parishioners are being evangelised, catechised and sanctified.

19 April 2020, 10:31