Religious believer or not, most of us agree that we should take care of the downtrodden. We have to feed and care for the homeless, the hurting, those who’ve temporarily hit hard times or those who, for whatever reason, cannot take care of themselves. These are the people who gather at the entrances of soup kitchens, who live atop garbage heaps, who salvage whatever they can for a shelter to call home.
What about those who live in the “cyberslums?” How do we minister to them?
If you’re not familiar with the term “cyberslum,” you’re not alone. Cyberslums are those places on the internet where bullying takes place, where pornography is the norm, and where predators lurk. It is a place of shadows and deceit; a dark place where people can remain hidden but also reach out to grab the unsuspecting.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace says this is a “new place of violence” and that parents and young people need to be more aware of the dangers in these cyberslums. However, Father Fortunato Di Noto, who has spent 25 years working with victims of sexual abuse, says those in the cyberslums live in “a kind of emotional ghetto, and the church must reach out to them.
In the process of notifying police about online abuse, Father Di Noto said that he and his association, Meter, also have inadvertently created a kind of “tent” church in the dark places of the digital world. By monitoring abuse, they encounter abusers and witness “the ambiguous suffering of humanity” in their tortured lives.
They find people who, while inflicting pain on others, are looking for affection, meaning in life or trying to decipher their own pain, he said.
“We have to make sure that these places of emotional destitution, these new digital peripheries that I would call ‘digital slums,’ can be made habitable” because places that lack all forms of compassion and human connection attract ravenous “vultures,” he said.
His work has become a kind of online ministry, he said, that offers “real accompaniment on the Internet because there are many people who are in need because they ‘live’ in this place every day.”
Di Noto says we must get away from thinking of the internet as a “lawless land” where anything goes. Instead, he says, “it has very precise rules — the rules are made by you, by how you live there.” That means that – just like in the “real” world – we must protect the innocent and minister to the hurting.