by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received you vocation, with whom did you first discuss it, and what was their advice?
Father Ariel: I was 19 years old when I decided to go to the seminary. Before that age, I used to accompany my grandmother to Mass or to some procession in my own town in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
When I finished high school, I went to university but after the first semester I felt that I was missing my friendship with God, and I realized that I was not going to the Church. So, during the religious feast in our parish church, which is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Assumption, I felt that I should speak with my parish priest, and I did it. Until that moment I never considered myself to become a priest.
It was August 1993, during those days, in the parish church some seminarians were helping there, and I felt encouraged by them because they were the same age as me. I thought: if they can follow Jesus and they are my age, I can do the same, or at least I can try. That was the first step in the journey to the priesthood.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of your time in the seminary.
Father Ariel: After that experience during the feast of Our Lady of Assumption I spoke with my parents about my desire to go to the seminary. They were not expecting something like that, but my decision was made even if I was 19 years old, and they tried to understand.
I have three brothers and one sister, and I was going to be the first one to leave the house. My first year of seminary took place in Sucre, another city from Bolivia. And at that moment the separation wasn’t easy for me and for my parents; I remember that my brothers and sister didn’t know where I was and that I wanted to become a priest.
After that experience I went back to the seminary in my own city of Cochabamba and I studied there for two years of philosophy and two years of theology.
For me, all the lessons about theology and philosophy were new and interesting, but I must say that from the very beginning I had a deep interest in communication and how the Catholic Church was using the mass media (this was before the era of the internet).
So, those days my favorite subjects were literature and communications. Eventually, I started to do some studies in communication and make some practices in a small catholic radio.
Gordon: What did you study at Pontifical Salesian University and what degree did you earn?
Father Ariel: After my first years of seminary, the archbishop of Cochamba sent me to study in Rome, there was a scholarship for a seminarian and I’ve arrived to the Eternal City in 1999, and since I was already studying theology and Communication in Cochabamba, after the first year I finished the theology and during the second year I started to study communication at the Salesian University. In 2003 I received the degree licentiate in Social Communications, then I went back to Bolivia.
Gordon: What did you study at Pontifical Lateran University and what degree did you earn?
Father Ariel: After some years I did my PhD at the Lateran University and the subject of my research was about the presence of the Catholic church in the digital world, and how evangelization was taking place there. The research was focused in Latin America.
Those studies were done while I was already working at the Vatican, which means that after the job in the office I had to go to the university or to the library. That’s why this project took me five years to accomplish it.
Gordon: What was your first assignment and what did you do there?
Father Ariel: After I finished my studies at the Salesian University I went back to my own archdiocese. My new archbishop asked me to create a new communication office. So, this is what I did: I created an IT department and a press office for the archdiocese. Those first years were very challenging to work with the pastoral of communication.
But everything changed after a while, because in 2006 I was asked to work at the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in the Vatican. My archbishop agreed and allowed me to go back to Rome.
I work there with Cardinal John Foley and the archbishop Claudio Celli, and I learned so many things about the Church and the Vatican. I was running the twitter account of the Dicastery which reached more than a hundred thousand followers and I started the online directory for the Catholic media (Intermirifica.net » the Global Catholic Multimedia Network) a place where you could find all the lists and contacts of the Catholic media around the world.
However, in 20016, after the reform of the Vatican Curia, that Pontifical Council was dissolved, and one year later I started my service at the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. It was a new phase during my service to the Holy See and I was grateful to our Lord, and to our Lady (from the first day that I arrived at the Vatican there is a picture of Our Lady of the Assumption that accompanies me wherever I go).
Gordon: When did you serve as General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and what were your primary responsibilities?
Father Ariel: I started working at the Synod of Bishops in September 2017 as in charge of communication, especially because the Synod of Youth was going to take place, and social media and digital communication was very important to be in contact with young and young adults from all over the world, and there was not any kind of web page or social media presence.
So, the superiors allowed me to establish the digital presence of the Secretariat; I did it through one institutional website and the social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
At the same time, I created a web page focus on the Youth Synod and we proposed to use the hashtag #Synod2018. In fact, during the pre-synod in March 2018, at least 15.000 young people were involved in the discussion with the 300 participants in Rome.
Nowadays I've not working on the communication fields of the synod, but I am still involved with this process.
Gordon: What is Synod.va, why did you launch it and what are some of the challenges of your work there?
Father Ariel: It was necessary to identify this communication plan with a kind of brand, and this is what we did. For instance, during the Youth Synod we focus on the hashtag “#Synod2018 '' and, at the same time, the official history and documentation of this Vatican organization become accessible through: Synod.va.
It was easier for people to remember “Synod.va”, than “General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops”.
The support of the Dicastery of the Communication was very important, and I must say that during the three weeks of the synodal assembly for the Youth Synod and the Amazon Synod, all the communication was run by the Holy See Press Office, with the help of the communication system of the Holy See. In addition, during those weeks there is a specific commission for communication integrated by the synodal participants.
My duty during those weeks was to coordinate and help ensure that everything was going smoothly.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of each of your Licenses & Certifications and how they are integrated into your work.
Father Ariel: As I mentioned I studied the licentiate in Social Communications at the Salesian University in Rome, my thesis there was about the network for the Latin-American Church (Red Informática de la Iglesia en América Latina).
After I came back to Rome, while I was working at the Vatican, I joined the Pastoral Institute Redemptor Hominis, at the LateranUniversity, and pursued the doctorate in pastoral theology, with specialization on the communication fields.
The world of communication is developing and changing constantly and this is the main challenge for our time: trying to be competent in the theoretical and technical aspects of communication, this knowledge has helped me to understand and carry out my work in the best way possible.
Gordon: What are your expectations for the Roman Catholic Church for the next year 2023?
Father Ariel: First of all, I hope that the next synod about synodality will be a success for the Catholic Church.
I hope that the synodal process that Pope Francis has inaugurated last October 2021, and that will have its first assembly at the end of 2023, will be an opportunity to listen to the People of God and give concrete and clear answers to become Christian communities, able to share their faith with others.
Finally, since we are talking what I am doing, let me shameless to promote my last two books, one is an interview with the El Salvadorian Cardinal: Conversaciones con el Cardenal Gregorio Rosa Chavez (this was published last November in El Salvador and is available as well as ebook), by the other hand this new year I will publish my second novel about a Bolivian character, who suffered from gigantism, and when he became an adult, he worked in a circus, travelling around Argentina and Brazil. It is a story about diversity and self-improvement.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.