For many religious communities, the coronavirus pandemic has been a time to discover the importance of an online presence. It’s something that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been wrestling with for some time, and has come into sharper focus during the crisis.
Rebecca Roughneen, digital communications specialist for the Oblates in Inchicore, says she and her team are working to “ensure faith is presented in a relevant and inspiring way” through a “period of transformation”.
In an interview with The Irish Catholic, she spoke about her faith journey, the work being done for the Oblates and how their digital outreach is connecting parishioners.
“Faith plays a huge role in my life,” Rebecca says of her own religious connection.
“I was fortunate to grow up close to and spend a lot of time in Knock Shrine, Co. Mayo, which I believed helped me to discover the beauty, depth and meaning of our faith.
“For me, the central message of our faith is that each of us are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of dignity, respect, and are loved by Him beyond measure, and it is one that I believe our world needs to hear more than ever.
She adds: “The Oblate community aim to be ‘always close to the people’ and to uphold the dignity of every human person, and as a community reaching out to a wider audience online with this message is part of this mission.”
Rebecca works alongside the Oblates communications team, which is made up of members of the community and lay people who have expertise in the area.
“I work to support and raise awareness of the work of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate through digital communications online and on social media platforms,” she says of her role.
“I highlight our projects within our communities and ultimately help to grow the Oblate mission of ‘respecting the dignity and sacredness of each person, we seek to grow close to Christ and make him known through our way of life and ministry’.”
According to Rebecca, the Oblates established a communications team to respond to Pope Francis’ call to view the world of social media as a “digital continent” and to treat it as a “mission territory”.
The purpose of this in doing so, she says, enables the Oblates to extend their missionary outreach to an “increasingly important area” of daily life.
“Once the pandemic crisis hit and our churches closed, we acted quickly to ensure that we had a means of maintaining a connection with our faith communities online,” says Rebecca.
“Along with Lisa Clancy and Fr Lorcan O’Reilly of the Oblates communications team, we pivoted our community online to ensure our parishioners and volunteers across Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales had support in these challenging and uncertain times.
“As churches were closing, our virtual channels for prayer needed to expand providing a personal approach for all who needed it.
“Since late March,” continues Rebecca, “the Oblates community including priests, parish workers, volunteers, youth workers and mission team workers have all answered the digital call and have had to learn quickly how to navigate the digital world.”
Rebecca, who was part of Youth Defence – Ireland’s largest pro-life organisation, says the Oblates reach out to and gather parishioners through having daily prayers online across all platforms.
“Each day at 9.30am and 9.30pm we invite viewers to join us for a short morning and night prayer together – a short time of reflective prayer to begin and end our day together, which are streamed on our Facebook and YouTube and shared on our website and Twitter.
“In our daily reflections we have prayed for all parts of our society including those working on the frontline in the emergency services, our Oblates community, our parishioners, for people who have lost jobs, victims of domestic violence, families who are missing each other and important family occasions.”
She continues: “The response has been humbling and people have joined us in prayer not just from our own parishes, but from all over the world; all praying together during these uncertain times, finding solace.
“We know that this has helped people cope and gives comfort to those struggling and also gives a daily focus to those who want to pray with us.
“Masses and prayer services are live-streamed daily from the Oblates parishes [across Ireland and the UK] and many people have emailed in their prayers and intentions to us and our online connections are increasing every day.”
The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) graduate, with a Bachelor’s degree in Design and Visual Communications, adds that “the overall digital approach has connected us” during the pandemic.
“Working together through a time of complete transformation to ensure we present our faith in a relevant and inspiring way,” she says.
“We have also combined our digital approach for those who prefer to read and a daily reflection email is also sent to those interested.
“As raising awareness of vocations to the Oblates way of life is very important to us, our regular Social Oblates podcast gives information on vocations following our founder St Eugene de Mazenod.
“Looking to the future,” concludes Rebecca, “we will work together as a community and as Pope Francis said: ‘Let us remain united. Let us make our closeness felt towards those persons who are the most lonely and tired’.”