"And as far as I’m concerned I offer my daily work to our Lord and I abandon myself to him because I know we have our Father, he’s our spiritual father, our Father, our creator and he will look after us no matter what."
Meet Erika Jacinto who works as the Director of Communications and Media Relations, as well as the press secretary for the Archbishop, of the Catholic Church of Montreal. Erika shares how in her role she communicates with various individuals from laity, non-religious, and religious leaders like Archbishop Christian Lépine and Pope Francis.
The following are edited excerpts and outline of the conversation from this podcast interview.
[00:00:13] In the five years at the Catholic Church in Montreal what have been your primary tasks and responsibilities as the Director of Communications and Media Relations?
So I actually have two roles in the diocese, on one side, yes, I’m a Director of Communications and Media Relations and on the other, on the other hand, I’m also the Press Secretary for Archbishop Christian Lépine. So for the first role Communication and Media Relations I’m overseeing the strategy, planning, implementation of messaging that goes out externally from the diocese to the great general public. I’m grateful to say that we have a small and wonderful and talented team that work with me…And in terms of our role, really, as a team is to evangelize, to bring Christ to people. To get to know him, to talk about him and the mission of the church, which is basically to evangelize. So that’s the focus on our work for anything that we do externally…
[00:02:58] What’s your approach in speaking to all these different people knowing that not you’re not only representing yourself but also speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese and Catholic Church?
Yes, well first of all because I’m working for a religious institution and it’s clear that the Catholic Church has a mission and it’s known or if it’s unknown I would mention it to whoever is contacting us for a comment. So it is, it’s interesting because yes, we are the Catholic Church in Montreal but we are a united universal Catholic Church so the topics that we discuss in any responses, in any approach, we have that angle to respect that doctrine of faith that is, that is belonging to the universal Church.
So we approach the topics in any, in any given circumstance following the teachings of the Church, following the teachings of Christ in the gospels and we have many, many requests for you know comments, feedback…something recently that happened, the death of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. So there was a lot of media interest who came to us and to get some feedback. ‘How do you react to this news?’ and ‘who is coming from Montreal to the funeral?’ So we had a statement, we had many interviews…so it depends on what the topic is, there’s always an approach to take and we discuss it before we reply to any of those.
[00:05:07] You mentioned how you work with the Archbishop. How was that experience for you considering many of the laity do not get to interact with their Archbishop on a regular basis?
Yes, thanks for asking that question. I felt very privileged five years ago in September 2017 when the Archbishop called me to tell me I have chosen you for this role. The feeling was humbling because I felt that I was being chosen to do such an important role for him and for the diocese. So that was my first reaction which I thought it was important to share.
After that it’s about developing a relationship with the person you’re working with. Of course he’s the Archbishop of a big diocese, we have around 190 parishes and missions. So it’s big and it’s multicultural and it’s full of ways of doing the mission for the love of Christ. So working with him has been a wonderful learning experience, learning about what is an Archbishop, what his role is, how he approaches his role as a pastor of the diocese and at the same time doing some administration for the diocesan team players.
So it’s been a growing experience for me because he’s a man of faith, he’s a man of meditation, of prayer. I have learned spiritually from him, I have learned doctrinally from him, I have been inspired. I’m still inspired by his humility and the serenity that he portrays facing sometimes difficult topics. So it’s definitely a privilege for me to work directly with the Archbishop and to learn from him and I’m happy to be serving the church in these roles.
[00:07:25] What’s something that you didn’t know or didn’t think of or you thought incorrectly about the office of the Archbishop beforehand?
Yes, so I was in the corporate world before as well for almost 15 years…I didn’t have a lot of expectations because it was totally new for me and I have been surprised how the Archbishop is looking after so many topics and so many people that would like to speak with him, either individually or organizations or different communities that are related to the church. So the amount of responsibilities and the business of his days have always been surprising to me because he’s able to attend to those individuals, groups that want to meet with him or to talk to him or to consult and he’s there.
So I’m struck by his ability to handle all these requests and doing a lot of that during a short night and a very long day. So that’s something that really has been there since I met him. I didn’t know and I didn’t expect working with somebody that is such a demanded person in terms of time and responsibility but yet he’s also somebody that when he’s sitting with you, he’s a hundred percent with you. And that’s a gift I think.
[00:09:36] You also mentioned that you manage the social media, where have you seen growth or what are the learning lessons in trying to reach people through the social media channels?
Yeah, thank you for asking that question. So I remember when I joined the diocese in 2017 we had some followers in Facebook and some followers in Twitter and YouTube. We did not have an Instagram active account and I remember in Facebook I think we had something around, somewhere around 3,000 or a bit less followers. And I have to say that social media for us have been a different story before the pandemic and after and during the pandemic.
So we have exploded and used much more our social media channels and grew as of 2020. And that’s been a wonderful missionary tool, missionary tools, to really send a message of hope, and love, and accompaniment, and courage that people were thirsty for. Especially during the time of the pandemic when a lot of anxiety was building up in our hearts and in our minds and we didn’t know what to expect.
So today for example, as a comparison, in January 2023 we have over 10,000 followers in Facebook, we have an Instagram account of 1,600 and more, Twitter over 3,000 and YouTube the last time I saw I think there were like around 11,000. So we have a large amount of people, of followers that are there and so we have that responsibility of continue building on that community. And the reason they are there is because there’s a thirst, there’s a thirst for love, for the truth, for a spiritual accompaniment, for good spiritual readings, for meditations, for getting the message of true love from God and that’s what we’re there for as missionary disciples.
[00:12:03] One thing I first came across was the Lent or Advent reflections on the YouTube channel and one thing that stuck out to me in that series was how you were able to get laity, people across from different parishes to provide their own reflections. How did that come about?
Yeah, yeah, the YouTube channel has been wonderful for us to use for testimonials and for reflections and for meditations. So I am happy to say, I’m joyful to say that we have counted with many faithful in the diocese that have offered themselves to provide this kind of accompaniment. Specifically most, in the most important liturgical times of the year so either before Easter or before Christmas, Advent or Lent.
So the idea is that there is somebody that is, you know, women or men, some of them are married, some of them are single, but what we share, all of us is the same faith. Different ages and different backgrounds. And the idea is that they each of them, they bring their own aspect, their own testimonial of how are they living a specific time of the year, a specific Sunday reading, how is that talking to them. And we feel that those voices are so varied that if one of them resonates less with me the other one for sure will resonate more.
And as far as there is at least one message that is touching people from those videos we are making this happen and we’re in the right direction. And there’s a lot of good content on our YouTube channel because there’s also testimonials from consecrated life people. We’re actually celebrating their annual day which is in February, of the day of consecrated life and we have local testimonials of nuns or monks or brothers that are living in communities and that’s a different type of lifestyle.
And also for the year of faith we created a series of videos talking about our faith journey from…priests or deacons or simply parents at home and it’s just very enriching as a community to be able to share those testimonials through a channel that is well visited.
[00:15:06] I also saw that you were involved in being a media liaison and part of a national communications team to Pope Francis. I just want to ask what spiritual insight were you able to gain from that experience seeing yourself working in and for the church?
Yes, that was a privilege. That’s the first word that comes to mind. So I went to see the Pope first in April last year, so 2022, that was four months before he came to Canada. I was part of a Canadian delegation meeting him in preparation to the following trip. And well there’s many things to say, I guess the first one that I would say…is the persona of the Pope was particularly inspiring.
The first thing that I was inspired about was his humility. When you see him, when he approaches you, when he looks at you he’s very humble. He’s caring, he’s loving, he’s approachable and he’s somebody that really represents, I think represents that virtue of humility and charity very well. And it’s inspiring for many to grow on that, all those virtues. At the same time we know that his coming to Canada was part of that journey that he’s been having together with indigenous peoples, not only in Canada but he also went to other countries and met them.
And that’s another thing that struck me spiritually is that for him it was a penitential journey. When he came to Canada he had some physical restrictions to move and some pain and yet he came. He did the amount of visits and he saw as many communities as he was able to and he maximized his trip in a few days that he came here. I think we’re blessed as a Catholic Church and us humanity to have Pope Francis as pope. He’s really very human, very caring and that’s definitely a spiritual insight.
And the second thing I wanted to mention that was also very good to learn from is the amount of people that volunteered to be part of the bigger team to organize this event. And most of them, they were working in a voluntary basis with their own resources to make this happen, to welcome the pope to Canada. For him to have a decent stay and to take care of all the pilgrims that we’re going to see him. So again it was an overwhelming sensation of like joy and at the same time touching how many people were mobilized and they were truly doing it from the heart…
[00:19:08] I appreciate you lending your voice because I feel like not many of us can interact at that level with archbishops or the pope and so even you yourself just talking about it I think gives us a little glimpse of how not only human but relatable and just like us they are. I just want to end by asking the same questions I ask all my guests. The first question is what is one scripture verse or part of the Bible that really resonates with you and why?
…from Luke ‘behold I am the servant of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to your word.’ So these are the words of Mary when she received the message from the angel and it actually talks to me a lot because for me she put herself in service right away to our Lord without asking questions, without asking why, with just abandonment to his will.
And as far as I’m concerned I offer my daily work to our Lord and I abandon myself to him because I know we have our Father, he’s our spiritual father, our Father, our creator and he will look after us no matter what. And we make mistakes and we fall and we have to stand up and we have to continue with that trust, with that faith, with that abandonment that Mary reflected in this passage. So for me this is the kind of path of sanctity that we should be called to follow and I think Mary is a great example for this.
[00:21:24] My second question is what’s one word or couple of words that you would like God to use in describing you?
The word that comes to mind because it has been brought to my attention in different parts of my life is perseverance. I think I’m a person that perseveres no matter what. Through storms, through sunshine, through darkness and through light I continue moving on. I try to do the will of our Lord in my life especially when I’m facing difficult decisions. I trust again on him and I persevere and I know that I make mistakes, that I’m full of failures but I also think that’s the way to grow as well. To learn from what you’re not doing great and how can you become better. So persevere and continue and you will feel that you’re going to be a better version of yourself by learning from your journey…
[00:23:25] Is there any last comments, anything you want to promote or would like others to support?
I think your podcast. I think it’s something that I have been listening to a few of your guests and thank you for that tool, as well. For that way of sharing people’s Christian perspectives and voices as you call it. So continue doing that and I thank you for doing it, for taking the time and the resources to do it.
There’s something that is going on in the church now, in the universal church that is called the Synod, the Catholic Synod that is going as we speak. It started a couple of years ago and it will continue on and basically it’s all about gathering as faithful and speaking and listening to what the church is today and what we should be striving towards to become a better Church. To become a church of outreach for this world that need the Catholic Church, that need the voice of Christ, that need that love.
So I think for those that are out there listening that are Catholics, get involved in the Synod. Talk, discuss, respond, participate and be hopeful that at the end of this journey as a synodal church we will start a transformation where we need to and that we will become better, better than we were today and better than what we were 2,000 years ago when we were founded. So that’s what I want to say and thank you and let us keep being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.