Inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the district of Cubao in the Philippine capital, electric cables were on the pew instead of people.
A technician checked on the cameras if it were working. “We’re good,” he said.
Leahna Villajos, social media officer of the diocese, took a look at the altar and made sure it was well-lighted. Then she gave the cue to the choir to begin.
She checked the computer monitor as soon as the nuns started singing.
Using a headset, Leahna listened to the sound coming from her mobile gadget to make sure they were transmitting good audio.
The streaming video changed to a wider shot as the priest appeared on the screen and approached the altar.
Even before the priest started the celebration there were already at least 17,000 viewers on the online live feed.
After airing the Holy Eucharist, Leahna and her team turned to preparations for the live streaming of the recitation of the rosary, which attracts about 100,000 viewers every day.
Since the Philippine government imposed a lockdown due to the pandemic, Leahna and her team in the social communication ministry of the Diocese of Cubao have been busy with their work.
“We were prepared. Fortunately, we were able to plan it,” she said.
Before the lockdown, the diocese has already been planning to live stream Masses.
“When the news came out that the capital has been placed under community quarantine, we went home to pack our clothes then came back to the cathedral,” said Leahna.
She only joined the diocesan social communication ministry in mid-February.
For six years, she worked as field reporter for Radio Veritas 846, a radio station run by the Archdiocese of Manila.
“I thought I was going to miss the fieldwork and the adrenaline rush. I honestly thought my work is going to be a desk job. Then the pandemic came,” she said.
Leahna and her team became the “busiest” people in the diocese during the lockdown. Every day, they live stream Masses and produce other social media content.
Work is suspended in many of the offices in the diocese due to the lockdown, but not the social communication ministry.
Father Herbert Santos said the diocese started to utilize “new media” in reaching out to the public in 2015.
One of the programs of the diocese is to train and equip the media ministry in every parish.
“We did a lot of things from revamping our website to conducting a series of workshops,” he said.
Father Santos said the pandemic has forced every social communication ministry in every diocese and parish “to step up” because of the need to cope with the lockdown restrictions.
“The social communication ministry was compelled to do extra miles especially in livestreaming because it requires certain creativity, skill, and equipment,” he said.
Father Santos expressed his gratitude to his team for their sacrifices and dedication.
“For the Church, people working in social communication ministries are heroes. I salute you,” he said.
The priest called on different church media ministries for “coordination and collaboration.” He said church media is the most powerful media in the world.”
“Imagine, we can establish a media ministry in every Catholic parish across the world,” he said, adding that church communicators are “essential in new evangelization.”
On May 24, the Catholic Church marked the 54th World Communications Day that celebrates the achievements of the communications media and promotes the use of different platforms in “telling truthful stories and stories that give hope.”
In his video message, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao reminded the public to only tell stories “that could give hope” and “promote the goodness of life.”
“Everyone of us loves to tell stories since we were young but not all stories are good. We must only tell stories that are true and those that bring hope to others,” he said.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan applauded the storytellers in the Church’s social communication ministries for their “essential services.”
“We know that there is no other way that the Church can communicate to the faithful in these challenging times except through digital technology especially while we are on lockdown,” he said.
The prelate said the Church is now “preparing for what people would call a new normal that is not really normal.”
“It is going to be our way of coping with our ministry in a very abnormal situation. And for this, we will have to rely very much on your support, service, and ministry,” he said.
Bishop David reminded church communicators that “the key to evangelization is storytelling.”
“You have to have a good imagination in order to be able to touch the heart and minds of people with the word of God. This is what evangelization is about,” said the prelate.
He encouraged the faithful to become “agents of good news, never bad news, never fake news.”
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said the social communications ministry of the Church has been serving as an important platform for many of the diocese’s programs and advocacies.
He said Church communicators “are our front-liners even before the pandemic,” adding that the “social communication ministry has been serving as our voice.”
“In spite of risk and uncertainty and the many challenges, they continue to tell our stories that surely will shape history,” said the prelate.
For Leahna and her team, the situation might be very challenging because of the global health crisis but the mission stays the same.
“We are here to bring to the public the voice of the Church and to tell stories of hope and life that everyone is longing to hear,” she said.