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The mission territory of … Wikipedia


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Arthur Herlin - published on 04/19/18

Wikipedia is often the first source of information on the Church for people who are not Christian or Catholic. Why not fill it with great content that enlightens and evangelizes?

Among the 10 most visited websites on the internet, all genres combined, there is only one that has existed since the beginning of the internet, and this without any advertising. This is, of course, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia created 17 years ago. Only a month after its appearance on the internet, the page dedicated to Christ was born.

This is quite a sign for the three priests (or future priests) who have invested special time and effort in the online encyclopedia: Will Conquer, from Monaco; Alek Shrenk, from Pittsburgh; and Simon Donnelly, from Johannesburg. On April 17, 2018, they will present a workshop dedicated to the Church’s presence on the website at the Saint-Louis Institute in Rome.

For Father Alek, the Church must not only be present on the encyclopedia, but must also become “the instrument of the new evangelization that Pope John Paul II called for.” Of course, religious, canonists, and theologians can particularly enrich the encyclopedia their knowledge. But the effort of evangelization also consists in “making their knowledge accessible to all,” especially to people who are far from the Church.

Evangelizing spirit is indeed the characteristic peculiar to the Christian contributor, said Will Conquer, a missionary and student at the French seminary in Rome. Because “by our baptism and our confirmation, we are de facto missionaries.”

French-speaking Christians have an excellent playing field: there are some 1.9 million articles in French compared to 5.6 million in English. France is quite behind, however, on the pages related to the Church: the article dedicated to the sending of the apostles on mission by Christ is a blatant example, Will pointed out. This episode, called The Great Commission in English, exists in 16 languages, including Croatian and Japanese, but is not yet available in French.

“The apostles were sent 2000 years ago,” joked the young man, “but they have not yet arrived to Wikipedia! It’s up to us to take them there.”

A missionary impact

The stakes are high. “This site is the first source of information on the Church,” he explained. Someone who is far from the Church and wants to know the meaning of the Eucharist, the life of a saint, or the meaning of a Catholic feast will turn to Wikipedia first.

Wikipedia’s instant impact is impressive. When Arnaud Beltrame died, a page was immediately created. It was consulted almost 100,000 times in 24 hours. Readers “learned that he was a committed Christian and how faith contributed to his heroic gesture,” Will Conquer rejoiced. Therefore, “We can no longer ignore Wikipedia. We are long past the point where we can let Catholic content on the site be mediocre or full of errors.”

“Shake the dust off your sandals”

Of course, as in real life, Christians will never be free of opposition or controversy. “Then it’s best to shake the dust off your sandals and sail for other horizons,” recommended the young deacon, and tackle new pages devoted to more modest figures or topics. It’s a good way to practice humility.

Will created the page of Bishop Jean Félix Onésime Luquet, an architect and missionary in Asia. “How many will read it? Surely very few, but it is no less important,” said the seminarian. This prelate has a link with the Foreign Missions of Paris, architecture, and even a small village in the East of France: “That means there will be many opportunities to stumble upon him,” he said.

For the future priest, it is a question of taking over the responsibilities incumbent on Christians: “We cannot lament the de-Christianization of the West and at the same time stay away from a platform like Wikipedia.” Especially, he noted, when we see that some cities have a page on their football stadium but not on their local church.”

“Evangelizing on the online encyclopedia is within anyone’s reach, especially those who have difficulties talking about God with those around them,” said the seminarian. “Provided we do not shrink from anything: correcting mistakes in syntax, then the information, and finally writing articles … it’s all part of the mission!”

Article translated from the French by Cerith Gardiner. 

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