The European Webmasters Network (JesWeb)

JesWeb is made up of a group of Jesuits and lay people in charge of the websites of the European Jesuit Provinces and their major works in communication.

Every year, the meeting of JesWeb attracts communicators from different Jesuit Conferences, transforming it into a broad communication forum.

The goals of JesWeb are:

- to share and reflect upon the experience of being responsible for the web sites;

- to seek and foster cooperation among those working on the different Jesuit websites;

- to study and discuss the new technological issues in (digital) communication and their usefulness;

- to consider ways of improving the apostolic and technical quality of the web sites;

- to improve collaboration with other apostolic areas such as vocations or working with refugees.

 

The last time Jesuit communicators were able to meet in person for their yearly gathering called JesWebCom was in 2019 in Madrid. A year later the get-together was scheduled to take place in Vienna, but due to the pandemic, eventually it was held online. Since the Covid situation had not become any better, the assembly this spring also occurred via Zoom from 4 to 6 May. The more than 50 participants met online every day for two hours to listen to the keynote speeches, then to share their experiences in breakout rooms. On the first day Nikolaas Sintobin SJ, internet pastor of the Low Countries Province, gave a proposal of a spiritual recap of the pandemic times.   The next day saw a talk by David Birchall SJ and Sarah Young titled “Alone yet in a Multitude” – Reaching Out Online in Lockdown. They presented a fascinating overview of the somewhat unexpected success of online retreats and individual guided retreats in daily life in Scotland and Wales during the Covid. On the third day, John Dardis SJ from the General Curia in Rome “took the screen” to speak about the strategy of his office of communications. He then answered questions, together with Pascal Calu SJ, coordinator of the Saint Ignatius Year at the Roman Jesuit centre. Beside pastoral work during Covid and the ways of online evangelization, it was the onset of the Jubilee Year that dominated the program and gave opportunity for the communicators to share their best practices. The participants represented most of the provinces in Europe and many from other continents. According to their testimonies, having been in the same shoes for more than a year, it was enriching to learn from one another’s examples as to how to cope with the extraordinary situation during pandemic times. And when the communicators said farewell to one another by saying “See you next year in Lisbon”, it was not a mere figure of speech. But also the expression of their sincerest hope that by 2022 the lockdown will be completely over, and they will at last be able to meet without any restrictions.
Communicators, Webmasters, Content Producers and Community Managers from all over the world participated in another edition of JESWEBCOM. Due to the current circumstances, this year’s meeting was done in a special way: online. Once a year we have an annual meeting of the network of communicators and webmasters of the Society of Jesus in Europe, the so-called JesWebCom. It all started 15 years ago with a small group of Jesuits and co-workers who wanted to have a platform to exchange information about new technical possibilities of their websites. In the meantime, JeswebCom is much more. JesWebCom has grown to a place for exchange, project development and global networking in all areas that affect the public relations of the Society of Jesus. The participants come mainly from Europe, but we also welcome colleagues from Australia, Kenya, the USA, Canada, and India. This year’s meeting was planned to be in Vienna and its preparation went on for several months. Unfortunately and regretfully the meeting in person had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. But the event was not cancelled. Instead the program was adapted to an online concept, taking all the possible advantages of it.  This offered the chance to welcome more participants from all over the world who would have not been able to travel to Vienna for the meeting. After 15 years of JesWebCom we were able to welcome participants from Russia for the first time. About 40 people participated this year. The program consisted of 3 sessions of around 1 hour each split among 3 days. “How to Communicate in an Ignatian Way” On the first day, Nikolaas Sintobin SJ from the ELC Region talked about: “How to Communicate in an Ignatian Way”. He approached several important aspects like the importance of always being aware that proclaiming the kingdom of God should always be the goal of our job as communicator.  "Creating a communication structure - Apostolic body of communicators" On the second day, we were awarded by Robert Ballecer SJ, member of the communication team of Fr. General Arturo Sosa SJ in Rome, with inputs related to "Creating a communication structure - Apostolic body of communicators". The last day was very interactive. The participants were split into 4 groups, each group adapted to an area of communication: Social Media, Public Relations, Webmasters and Digital Content Producers. The groups had some time to get to know each other, share some common issues and possible ways to solve them. The response to COVID-19 was also approached, but the largest emphasis was given to the Ignatian Year, which will take place in 2021/2022. It commemorates two important moments in the life of this religious Order: 500 years of the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola and 400 years of his canonization. The meeting ended with an open discussion with all the participants present. The feedback on this form of meeting was positive and we were very grateful that we were able to set up JesWebCom online. It was good to see colleagues again - even if only online - and to network and exchange new ideas. All in all, we can look back on a successful JesWebCom 2020 despite the circumstances. New aspects for our meeting have opened up and in retrospect we have to think about which new ways we can go for future meetings. 
Thirty-eight people working in Communications for Jesuit organizations in Europe and beyond met in Madrid from May 14 to 17 for the JesWebCom Conference. Among us, there are journalists, web designers, photographers, IT experts. We have different backgrounds, but certainly, we all face the same challenges and come from 18 different countries, a mix of Jesuits and lay. We arrived on Tuesday afternoon at “La Casa de ejercicios espirituales Rafaela Maria” a beautiful well kept convent in Barrio Salamanca, in the centre of the Spanish capital. José Maria Olaizola SJ,  Secretary of Communication of the Jesuit Spanish Province, took care of us from the very beginning. How to communicate the Four Apostolic Universal Preferences John Dardis SJ (General Councilor for Discernment and Director of Communication of the Curia in Rome) presented the video they recently made in the Curia about the four Apostolic Preferences stressed by Father General Arturo Sosa SJ. “What are the Preferences?”, he asked wearing casual jeans and a polo shirt. “Why didn’t we call them priorities?”. I know the answer “Preference is a way to do things that imply not excluding other topics”. Here a little reminder, it’s never redundant to repeat them: Promoting discernment and Spiritual Exercises. Walking with the excluded Journeying with the youth Caring for our common Home We reacted, telling what struck us the most. Communication crisis The second day we talked about the crisis in communications and participated at a very appealing role game. Elena Rodriguez-Avial the coordinator of the Communication Office of the Jesuits in Spain, made her message very clear: don’t miss a call from a journalist, and, if you do, call back. No matter how difficult dealing with the crisis might be. It could be sexual abuse case, an accident, a corruption case. Not answering the call means that we have something to hide and can also turn a simple piece of bad news into a big scandal. Sunshine at Prado Museum After a morning of “crisis” the participants deserved an afternoon of distraction, Madrid was warm and sunny and we went to Prado museum and we enjoyed masterpieces of Goya and Velázquez explained by an excellent guide. We then discovered the Habsburg heritage in the architecture of Madrid walking from Prado to Plaza Mayor. The third day some of the participants shared their experiences. Carolinne Silva and I, from JESC, decided to emphasize the European Leadership Programme. A unique training project in Brussels that combines a professional career with spiritual growth. After our conversation, our mission as communicators for Jesuit organizations it became more clear: we have received a call to talk about spirituality, ecology, youth, it’s true. But more widely I see this call as a mission for peace and reconciliation in our spiteful society. It was time to pack up, but we don’t leave Madrid without a spreadsheet for next JesWebCom (that will happen in Vienna on May 4-7 2020). We will focus on: Marketing and Fundraising, How to produce good contents, Promoting quality training for all of us, How to communicate with secular people. How do we reach more people? We ended the conference with a deep sense of gratitude and a desire to meet again.  The power of networking was felt again.
Thirty-four Jesuit communicators from nineteen countries around Europe and further afield held their annual meeting in Brussels last week.The JesWeb group was started in 2005 by a group of Jesuits and co-workers responsible for maintaining province websites.  Philip Debruyne SJ, Communications Officer for the Jesuit European Conference, is the longest standing member of JesWeb, this year attending his 12th meeting.  What changes has he noticed over the years?“At the beginning it was more charismatic and less professional. Webmasters were often scholastics who had built the province website in html and wanted to exchange technical information and solve problems.  Now almost all provinces have employed professional communicators. Our meetings are now more about strategy, creativity and collaboration.”By contrast Pia Dyckmans was attending her first JesWeb, having joined the comms team for the German province just last year. Pia commented “I have found it creative, constructive and inspiring. I hope to be back next year.”The meeting was launched with a personal video message of encouragement from Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ, who reminded delegates that “for Saint Ignatius communications was almost an obsession. It is in our DNA…. Our mission is to “go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News”.  JesWeb was preceded by a meeting in Rome of communications representatives of each of the six Jesuit conferences worldwide (Jesuit conferences roughly equate to continents).  Patrick Mulemi SJ, Head of Communications at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, observed, “At last week’s meeting  in Rome of the six conferences’ comms managers, four were lay women.  I say a special prayer of gratitude for our female collaborators.” The Jesuits in Britain were represented by Jane Hellings, Director of Development and Communications, Frances Murphy, Editor of Thinking Faith and Emma Holland, Producer of Prayasyougo daily prayer podcast. Martin Stark SJ, Socius of the German Province, has been the Chair of JesWeb for the last three years. “The digital communications world has changed so much since 2005,” he observed “and to reflect the new professionalism of integrated comms the committee proposed to change the name of the group to JesWebCom.  So 2018 was the last JesWeb, but welcome to JesWebCom next year!” As well as sessions on reaching young audiences and compliance with new data protection laws, delegates took part in practical training  to improve their skills in video making and photography. Patrick Mulemi SJ concluded “It is such a good idea to have opportunities like this to share best practice and ideas. This year is important because of the message from Father General missioning the group.  Comms is in the DNA of the Society and using all tools available to us is what St Ignatius would have wanted.”
European Jesuit webmasters and European Vocation Promoters use to meet every year for some days, somewhere in our continent. This year, for the first time both groups planned their meeting in Malta, in different retreat houses, but spent a day together to share, pray and discuss their common interest. Delegates from the Jesuit Conference for Africa and Madagascar (JSAM), Australia and North America also made the trip to Malta, where the JesWeb meeting was hosted at the Mount St Joseph Retreat House in Mosta. Survey Fr José de Pablo (CEP Socius) shared with delegates the results of a survey into existing levels of collaboration between province vocations and communications teams which showed that there was a need and desire to work more closely together, to be more strategic and to evaluate the effectiveness of new initiatives.  A large majority of those who approach vocations directors have first found out about the Jesuits online rather than through our schools or other ministries.  A strong online presence, including social media, is therefore vital, but it can be a challenge to present the right messages in the right way to young people, especially if you are an older Jesuit.  Fr Mathew Power (vocations director BRI) said “it’s been really useful to find out how other provinces share some of our challenges, and to be inspired by ideas for future collaboration both within and between provinces.” Delegates shared experience and heard about examples of good practice from the Irish Province and from the US Mid West Province.  Inspiring vocation stories from current Jesuits, and gentle help with discernment through video were shown to be effective tools. Communication for the entire Society of Jesus On the agenda of the communication managers was also an analysis of the public work around the 36th General Congragation last year. The American Father Robert Ballecer SJ ("The Digital Jesuit"), who was responsible for video production and social media in Rome, reported on the work of the 12-man communication team. The head of the General Congregations Communication Office in Rome, Father Patrick Mulemi SJ, announced that the General Superior had meanwhile formed a "taskforce" for the further development of the communication of the Society of Jesus with the aim of establishing a new Internet presence for the Order world-wide. Social It was very useful for members of these provinces to meet together to plan for further co-operation, and also to spend time getting to know each other in social situations.  Delegates were very grateful to their Maltese hosts, who organised a boat trip around the historic harbour of Valletta, and Mass at the spectacular Cathedral of St John which was concelebrated by Fr José de Pablo, Fr Martin Stark (German province) and Fr Michael Bugeja (Maltese province).