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A New Chapter in Evangelism: Are We Ready?

Meet tech entrepreneur John Corcoran, appointed by Pope Francis as a consultant for the Dicastery for Communication.

John Corcoran, appointed by Pope Francis as consultant to the Dicastery for Communication on September 29, is no average communicator. In 1996, he founded a leading life science consulting firm, Trinity Life Sciences, which now operates globally. He has over 30 years of consulting experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, with expertise in go-to-market strategy, data management, digital platforms and analytics.

On the other hand, he also works in Catholic communications, as he is Chairman of the Board of Directors of iCatholic Media, an entity of the Archdiocese of Boston that includes the American Catholic Television Network. CatholicTV.

Corcoran spoke to Aleteia about his vision for Catholic Church communication and the new perspective he hopes to bring to his new role.

I wish for a world that “finds the treasure” and fills life with joy.

Aleteia: With your unique professional background, what new perspective on digital communication do you bring to a 2,000-year-old institution like the Catholic Church?

Corcoran: Digital engagement has become an unchanging facet of modern life. Technology never replaces in-person faith practice, but digital engagement can be undertaken effectively to advance the mission of the Church. The need to engage more with Catholic and non-Catholic communities has never been greater. As I begin my mission in the Dicastery, I recognize the profound changes in technology and digital engagement that are occurring at an unprecedented rate. For example, in the early 2000s there were approximately 750 million mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, while today there are over eight billion, more than the world’s population. Similarly, Facebook now has over two billion users (none in 2000) and Tik Tok over a billion users despite launching only six years ago.

Part of the uniqueness and innovation of the so-called “digital continent” is that content delivery can be measured and targeted. While established media forms have partial ways to measure consumption (TV audience, radio listening, etc.), the digital landscape is fully enabled from a data and analytics perspective. With the recognition of the important need to protect user privacy and information, communication in the modern world can be targeted so that the content delivered matches the interests of users. The Internet is not geographically limited and the ability to reach large audiences seamlessly and instantaneously is valuable. The Church has always communicated and presented the gospel in all languages ​​and to all peoples, with digital channels accelerating this opportunity.

Aleteia: What is the Church’s relationship with digital forms of communication and where can it improve its methods of reaching people?

Corcoran: The Church does not need to be an early adopter of technology. The Church can, however, be opportunistic in its use of communication, including traditional and digital forms. The particular challenge is to offer content in multiple forms and paths. I know from my experience in the Archdiocese of Boston that sacramental offerings (online Mass, Rosary, etc.), when available in digital format, resonate deeply with the faithful and those approaching Catholicism. But faith can deepen with greater exposure to scripture, Catholic music and literature, art, and more. The “white space” for the Catholic public and for those who discern or are drawn to the faith is unlimited.

Pope Francis addressed this theme in his message to the conference in Monterey (Mexico) last August, noting that the Church “must find new ways to proclaim the heart of the Gospel to those who have not yet met Christ”. He called for “pastoral creativity capable of reaching people where they live – without waiting for them to come – finding opportunities for listening, dialogue and encounter.”

Aleteia: Do you think the Church has kept up with the fast pace of the digital communications world and been able to relay its message well?

Corcoran: For all organizations using digital communication, including the Church, “effectiveness” is not measured simply by the simple “deployment” of technology. Intentionality is the key to broad acceptance and impact. The Holy Father reminded us that communication must be characterized by the principles of “participation and sharing” and that such awareness is only effective when it becomes “witness”. Communication is thus seen through a dynamic and purposeful lens, even if the Church itself is not digital-based or technology-driven.

Communication styles and approaches have been constantly evolving since the beginnings of the early church. It started with the printing press (1440), then radio (1920) and television (1927), and now the pace of innovation has accelerated with cell phones (1973), the Internet (1983), the search (Google, 1996), and more. The Church has interpreted and deployed these and other innovations with care and in alignment with her saving mission. With history as a guide, we know that the pace of technology will drive future change and that the Church must remain opportunistic and circumspect in its understanding and use of these technologies. This new frontier of digital communication, in tandem with the Church’s existing media footprint, opens an exciting new chapter in evangelism. The Department for Communication is the center.

Aleteia: In a world where young people prefer social media applications to more traditional forms of media, where do you think the field of mass media evangelism is heading in the near future?

Corcoran: Evangelism through digital means is a possibility on levels unimaginable only a generation ago. Pope Francis affirmed this reality, noting that digital engagement makes it possible to share the Gospel “without even leaving your doorstep.”

“The digital world – the social networks that are so ubiquitous and readily available – are dissolving borders, eliminating distances and reducing differences.” The Church can embrace these realities while recognizing and overcoming the challenges that overreliance on these forms of communication can bring. The work of the Dicastery will be enhanced by these new forms of communication, while not abandoning the traditional forms, which remain essential for many. The truism of meeting the faithful “where they are” can now be extended further using all forms of media. What a powerful opportunity this suggests!

The truism of meeting the faithful “where they are” can now be extended further using all forms of media. What a powerful opportunity this suggests!

Aleteia: In your opinion, what is the potential for evangelization via social networks?

Corcoran: There is a structural element of digital communication that is often overlooked. Broadly, “media” means any or all “channels” of communication. I would also extend this definition to include the required elements of content and distribution. In the context of the Church, the former focuses on the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, the latter on the dissemination of this content. Most published sources indicate that average daily internet use per person worldwide now exceeds seven hours per day. Digital evangelism enables unique forms of connectivity that enable and deepen “community”. This is particularly essential to reach young people, who consume digital content in a differentiated way and at high levels. Last July, the Holy Father spoke of evangelization less as a form of “personal activism” than as a testimony of love. This can come to fruition powerfully through social media and internet engagement.

Aleteia: You are a successful businessman. Why did you decide to give a good part of your time, as a volunteer, to the service of Catholic communication?

Corcoran: It is a great honor to share with the Church (and the Dicastery for Communication) my perspectives and ideas on communication, drawn from my past experience with data and analysis. I know firsthand that “mission does revitalize faith” and I want a world that “finds the treasure” and fills life with joy. This is the most powerful and fundamental promise of digital communication and evangelism. Sharing the faith in joy is the heart of the work of the Department for Communication. It is a “joy” for me to be invited to participate and I look forward to my association.