By Franziska Fleischer - Austrian Province
JesWebCom is the annual meeting that brings together communicators and webmasters of the Society of Jesus in Europe. This networking effort started 15 years ago with a small group of Jesuits and co-workers who wanted a platform to exchange information on new technical possibilities for their websites. In the meantime, JeswebCom has become much more. It has grown to be a place for sharing, project development and global networking in all areas that affect the public relations of the Society of Jesus. The participants are mainly from Europe, but we also welcome colleagues from Australia, Africa, the USA, Canada, and India. There were 40 people involved this year.
The steering committee of four elected members of JesWebCom takes care of the planning and content of the meeting, which takes place in a different European city every year. In early May of this year, all participants were invited to Vienna, Austria.
The programme entailed months of planning, meetings and Skype discussions. We were looking forward to the finalised programme and then to the meeting itself. Then came COVID-19. By mid-March, the Austrian government announced the first cancellations of events in Vienna, followed by a ban on gatherings. Travel warnings were issued until the lockdown finally took place. After weekly video conversations within the steering committee to evaluate the situation, we chose, with a heavy heart, the only possible approach: the cancellation of the “physical encounter” of JesWebCom 2020.
But we did not want to cancel the meeting completely. There were many interesting and important topics on the agenda. New ways and possibilities had to be imagined. Not everything was lost. As bad as the situation is, there are positive aspects to be found. We changed our three-day meeting to an online mode. It is no small thing that this allowed us the possibility to welcome more participants from all over the world who would not have been able to travel. For the first time in the 15 years of JesWebCom, we welcomed participants from Russia.
For the steering committee, the conversion of the programme to an online format within a few weeks meant a considerable amount of additional work and organisational talent. We decided to keep the three-day rhythm but to scale-down the programme since not every topic could be easy to deal with online. Each session was kept short. A large emphasis of the programme became the “Ignatian Year”, which takes place in 2021 to 2022. It commemorates two important moments in the life of the Jesuit religious Order: 500 years of the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola after he was wounded in the Battle of Pamplona (1521-2021) and 400 years of his canonisation.
For the first two days, lectures with subsequent discussions were planned. Nikolaas Sintobin SJ, from the Dutch Province, spoke on the first day on the theme “How to Communicate in an Ignatian Way”. Robert Ballecer SJ, a member of the communication team of the Jesuit Curia in Rome, followed on the second day with the talk “Creating a communication structure - Apostolic body of communicators”. The last day was for discussions. Participants were divided into groups according to their areas of responsibility. Small groups allowed for better sharing about the current COVID-19 situation and the Ignatian Year.
The feedback was positive. We are very grateful that we were able to set up a JesWebCom online. It was good to see colleagues again - even if only online - and to network and share new ideas.
We can look back on a successful JesWebCom 2020 despite the circumstances. New aspects for our meeting have opened up and now more than ever we have to think about new directions in which we can go for the future.