Interview with Fr. Jose Gabriel Mesa OP
Sr. Maria Leonor Charria : Thank you Jose Gabriel, for accepting to
dialogue on a subject so important to us all.
Fr. Jose Gabriel: Thank you too for being invited.
Sr. M.L. : Tell us something about yourself because there are many Sisters who do not know you.
Fr. J.G.: I was born in Cartagena, Colombia forty-eight years ago from a catholic couple. I am the fourth among five children. When I was still a child we moved to Cali. I was educated by the Dominican Fathers in this city. I much their vision of life liked very and then I decided to become a Dominican Priest as soon as I would finish my schooling. I made my Novitiate at the age of 17, made my Profession when I was 18 years old and was ordained as a Priest at 24 years of age. Everything happened too fast.
I thank the Lord for calling me to the Order of Preachers. I love my Dominican vocation and my ministry; I feel very happy for this part of my journey. I have rendered many services to the Order from being a cantor during the novitiate to being the Provincial for eight years. Now I am in Rome for three years, for study that soon will end. In 2013 I obtained a MA in Education from the Gregorian University. Right now I am preparing my Doctoral dissertation on Diaconate within the Church.
It is important to say that I have lived some of my preaching ministry with the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation from the very beginning of my Priesthood, it is true that many do not know me, but many others do! I am a Dominican very devout of Marie Poussepin, I know her a little and her life is for me a source of inspiration.
M.L.: Why did you come to Rome to study Mass Media?
J.G. : Because lately my Province has taken a great interest in the means of social communication and evangelization through them. On the other hand I wanted to continue my theological studies. Rome seemed to be the most appropriate place to do both and it has proven so. It is true that you do not have to come to Rome to study means of communication but learning how evangelize through the Media is another thing. To communicate faith and the Good News of Jesus Christ through the Media like radio and T.V. even the Internet, is something that has its own secrets and we need to explore them in order that technology may enhance the spirit instead of asphyxiate it.
It has been happening very slowly. In practice, I found out the impact and coverage that could produce a word proclaimed in front of a camera, a microphone or an Internet site. I also understood its dangers and challenges and the need to train ourselves well in order to do it properly. I understood that you can speak to thousands of people while remaining seated in your own room, or in front of your computer or telephone… that is if you are properly connected! Some people have a real charisma for the media. However, the good result in the media is not fully due to the personal charisma. This kind of mission requires proper training to the form as well as the content. Besides, it requires a tremendous constancy and stability of the effort. I am beginning to see evangelization through media as permanent preaching mission and not like an adventure. Everything is just beginning.
M.L. Why should a Dominican priest and Dominican sister be in touch with the Media?
J.G. There could be plenty of reasons. Our main task is to preach. We must not only do it but we must do it well. This implies that our preaching must be done at the appropriate moment, the appropriate manner, using the correct words. This is already a big exercise of the mind enlighten by faith. It is here where communication finds its place: the moment, the form, the words. Media touches first our senses, the sensitive feeling as Saint Thomas called it. In order to be good the Media should be original and creative. Besides, preaching aims at touching the human soul, the inner self of the human being. Don’t you feel that there should be here a necessary dialogue? A Dominican man or woman communicates from the soul and to the soul. This lack of sensitive material finds very rich soil in the media.
Originality and creativity are not against the Gospel. If the Good News of Christ is not shared in an original and creative manner it will not be received. The Gospel is totally original and creative. This is why we can speak about Jesus as the perfect communicator. However, here we have something different: originality and creativity are not the result of audiovisual means, but of the witness of faith. We need to begin with the honesty of a life able to touch the interiority of the persons, to begin there a real communication having God as the center. Everything else, including technology, comes after. At least, this is the way I understand the expression of St. Dominic: ”speak to God or about God.” It is a constant communication! But it requires something that we the Brothers call “Gospel behavior” because truth and image must go hand in hand. This is a basic principle for the Christian communicator.
M.L. How do you see the possibility of making the Christian message more accessible to the new generations?
J.G. I feel that this is a more complex subject for us adults. For the young the subject of Media is not a challenge; it is their ordinary world, where they live. The web is warm and comfortable moving more and more from the virtual to the tangible. It is a real place where many social contemporary matters are weaved. We have to be there if we want to be closer to people. We must say that the Church is more and more aware of it and tries to offer here a better quality of presence; you can see it more and more clearly in the recent messages from the Popes; that what before was call “satanic” because of the danger to separate the human being from reality, is now called “doors of truth and faith, new spaces for evangelization”; this motivates me enormously.
However, if we try to find a correct response from the point of view of the young, I would use four verbs commonly found in the Media. I baptized them as: “Preaching with the four verbs: ”get concerned, interact, inform and instruct.” The young, their world and feelings must be partners of evangelization and not only recipients of it. Their possibilities, gifts and ideas have much to offer. However, even if the young are more informed than we are in many a subject, it is our duty to transmit and communicate the faith to them. We must become able to respond to their questions and doubts mainly through the witness of our lives.
M.L.: “Do you feel that the digital world may have the danger of ignoring face to face communication and that for us religious it could generate isolation?”
In the final analysis, it is very important for each one of us brothers and sisters, to identify and if necessary confront the real dangers we can meet within the Web. This is a very serious subject which needs much more reflection, even on the theological level.
M.L. How do you see Dominican Preaching on the web?
J.G. This is a very difficult question. I already mentioned it when I spoke about the four verbs. In this light, I can see four paths or directions for the Dominican preaching through the Web: sharing of the Word of God, listening to people, audiovisual language and building up the web within the Church, especially at the inter-congregational level. I will say a little more about each one of these points.
1. It is necessary to enlarge the web spaces for understanding and appropriation of the Word of God; it is true that the Gospel texts as well as the homilies are there. However, people seek a more interactive dialogue around the Gospel and its impact on life. As Dominican Family we have too much to offer here.
2. We must listen to people, the web is necessary for this purpose; people want to give their own opinion, speak, express themselves and know. The number of Brothers and Sisters who have a missionary task in the Web are very few. It is not easy for us to think about Brothers or Sisters committed full time to this type of mission.
3. The voice and the image can perform miracles at the moment of communicating the Gospel. However, we must come back to creative originality centered on witnessing. I feel that we have two tasks to accomplish: to encourage a better and greater presence in the Media; it is necessary to learn how to use a large number of audiovisual aids already in existence; but also create our own resources, with beauty and esthetics. For me this is a key subject of New Evangelization.
4. We have to think more as Church and not only as Order or Congregation.
I am going to give you an example. There is practically no institute without a Web page. There are some good ones but unhappily many others are very poor from the point of view “media language”. Each one does his/her own job but know very little of what the others do, consequently we ignore what we could do together. We need inter-congregational work much more consolidated and in communication with the ecclesial sites within the Web. Within a sea of information we run the risk to be uninformed. An example of it could be the concern for Social Justice, the ministry of charity, solidarity with the poor, prophetic preaching, these aspects could have a real impact and we have many more examples.
By the way, concerning the Church, it is already preparing the theme for the Day of Communication 2014, centered on the culture of the encounter. The suggestion from Pope Francis goes in three different directions: make of communication a human conquest instead of technological; understand it as proximity; and the relation between life and word for the credibility of the communicator. In this sense he speaks about the Internet as “God’s blessing” if it is used well. See how the Media can multiply everything fast with the condition that everything is well connected. It happens the same with us: we have to unite our forces; connect with one another, come closer to one another so the action of the Spirit could penetrate the Web more and better. This would be a way to counteract the evil that also goes through it. It would be wonderful if you as Congregation look into this.
M.L. Thank you Jose Gabriel.
J.G. Thank you to you too, My affection to all the Sisters .
Rome, January 2014.