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1 million SMS of Catholic teaching

(Vatican Radio) Africa is in the midst of a technological revolution, and nothing illustrates that fact better than the proliferation of mobile phones. Consider this: more Africans have access to mobile phones than to clean drinking water.

In a country like South Africa, the continent’s strongest economy, it seems that there are more mobile phones than people. And as in other countries, they are being used in a range of ways aside from talking.

For example, SMS text messaging is practically ubiquitous among South African mobile customers, and is used by almost 4.2 times more people than e-mail, while more than two-thirds of consumers prefer sending texts to calling.

So it does not come as a great surprise to discover that South Africa has led the world in using cell phones to share Catholic teaching.

Leading the way, the South African “Hope & Joy” Network spearheaded by the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg, this month sent it millionth SMS as part of its service to help Catholics deepen their understanding of the faith.

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Raymond Perrier, Director of the Jesuit Institute in South Africa about the SMS service and about the response of the faithful…

Listen to the interview… RealAudioMP3

Raymond Perrier explains that the SMS are part of a wider set of initiatives – the Hope & Joy project – which was originally designed to enable Catholics across the country to engage with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and to get a deeper understanding of Vatican 2.

He says that key to the Hope & Joy initiative was to have lots of different ways of delivering material so “we could respond to what works for different people: some like to read articles in the newspaper, some like to hear a radio programme, some like to receive emails. SMS came up as one of the mechanisms we should use”.

Perrier observes that SMS are fantastically effective because in South Africa almost everybody seems to have a cell phone. “An astonishing statistic reveals that there are more cell phones than people in the country!”

So, he says, what that means is that if you can use your cell phone to get the message across, then you really do get through to everybody in an effective and efficient way, even to the most rural inhabitants of the nation.

Perrier explains that working through a local company that handles the practicalities of the service, the Hope & Joy network has invited people to sign up to the service. They subscribe for a small weekly sum, and in return receive a message every day.

He points out that when the initiative first started the theme was in fact the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. This year the theme and the focus have shifted slightly because of the on-going Year of Faith.

The aim, Perrier says “is also to show Catholics that the teachings of the Church are very broad. There is a tendency to think that Church teachings are only about “Churchy things” like the liturgy and so on; in reality there is wonderful Church teaching about the economy, about the environment, about Human Rights, racism and so on”.

During the Year of Faith, he continues, “we have been following Benedict XVIth’s suggestion that the Year of Faith be a chance to re-engage with the Catechism. And so we have been using the Catechism as a source for the SMS”.

On a very practical note he reveals that, for example, yesterday’s SMS is from Benedict XVIth’s message in January and reads: “In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy”.

Today’s SMS is actually a quote from Archbishop Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who says: “Pope Francis is touching not only the intellect, but also the heart and the imagination. It’s a new approach to communication”.

And that – says Perrier –“is exactly what we hope we are doing: we are touching not only the intellect, but the heart and the imagination”!

(Although the SMS service is obviously directed to South Africans, Perrier points out that people across the globe can also get the messages for free on Twitter @hopejoy50).