Religious sisters can bring Christ to social media and foster an encounter with God who loves us deeply, according to Sr. Orianne, a Canadian-born Pauline nun now serving in the US city of Boston and around the world.
By Roberto Cetera
Is it possible to evangelise with a smile? The answer to that question seems to be a definite yes when swiping through the Instagram posts published by Sr Orianne Pietra René, a young Daughter of Saint Paul, a Canadian now stationed at the Pauline sisters’ North American Publishing House in Boston, USA.
Scrolling through Instagram profiles, it’s impossible not to stop to take a closer look at Sr Orianne’s account. This young sister, beyond her great competence on social media and her witty humour, boasts an extraordinary talent for mimicry.
But her irony is never an end to itself; rather, it always proposes an invitation to the spiritual and calls her 33,000 followers back to the Gospel.
“I entered religious life when I was 27 years old”, says Sr Orianne, “and I made my first vows as a Daughter of Saint Paul in July 2021.”
Q: And what was your life like before then?
I had no intention of becoming a nun. As a convert to Catholicism, my teens and early 20s were spent studying, working, travelling and growing in my faith. I went to university to study Anthropology and International Development, and then pursued studies in Education. I worked as a teacher in the UK for one year, and then returned to Canada where I taught French to kids in kindergarten through grade 7. I was also active in youth ministry at our local parish.
I loved working with kids and teens. I began to realise that there was a real spiritual starvation in my kids. That realization opened me up to a desire for something more. Then when a priest asked me in confession if I’d ever considered my vocation I began to wonder (with a lot of panic at the time!) whether the Lord was calling me to religious life.
Since I was in a very rural area, there were not many communities nearby I could talk to, so I began to search online. That’s where I found the Daughters of Saint Paul for the first time.
Q: Sr Orianne, you seem to think there is continuity between pastoral activity on social media and the fact that your vocation was born through it. How did you first become involved in this digital pastoral activity? Did your superiors request it of you or was it a personal decision?
As Daughters of Saint Paul, we are called to use the most modern and effective means of communication to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I certainly used social media before I entered the Daughters, but my accounts were all private. I just used it to share with my family and friends.
When I became a sister, I felt the Lord invite me to bring all of myself to this call, including my social media. After discerning this invitation with my sisters, I changed my social media accounts to public, and began to share from my heart with the people of God.
Q: Your videos are very original and ironic. Was that planned or is it part of your personality?
I actually never post anything unless I feel the Spirit prompting me to share. I love to find the humour in life. I think God has an amazing sense of humour and it comes out even in Scripture!
At the same time, I feel the needs and sufferings of people very deeply. I hope my videos can bring a smile to people’s faces, and that the written messages beneath them can bring healing to people’s hearts.
Q: Is it difficult to transmit a spiritual message in such a short video?
If we realized how much God loves us, and how much he loves us in the simple realities of life, our lives would be so different. I long for people to know that love — a love that is living, that heals, and that invites us to newness. This is the Gospel’s message. This is what I hope to share.
Q: Who are your followers?
Each one of my followers is a precious child of God. I am grateful to have a little social media family that actually prays together — I pray for them, they pray for me, and they pray for one another. It’s so humbling to see this amazing community forming in the comments of a video.
My following is pretty evenly split between guys and girls, and they range in age from teenagers to 60-year-olds. They are from all over the world — I’ve had amazing conversations with people across the US and Canada, Brazil and Italy, Lebanon and Kenya, Korea and Australia. It’s amazing to see the Lord working in all of their lives! And they teach me a lot too!
I can say from personal experience how important our Christian presence is on social media. I have had the incredible privilege of accompanying people through seasons of doubt, returning to prayer, and of conversions to Catholicism.
I still cry every time I hear about someone beginning RCIA because of interacting with our sisters on the social media, whether it was me or someone else. I rejoice that the Lord has used both the fun and the serious posts of my account, and the accounts of my other sisters, to create an environment that is safe for people to come, ask, question, debate, learn, adventure, and be transformed by Christ’s love.
Q: What risks can arise from digital religious communication?
On social media, messages have the potential to reach people you might never think of. We must always be open to the Spirit’s guidance in both what and how we share: am I sharing love in truth? Am I creating division in how I express myself or am I inviting people into respectful dialogue?
One of the biggest risks in religious digital communication is accidentally counter-witnessing to the Gospel by posting or reacting hastily and thoughtlessly. When we make this mistake in real life, our words may impact one or two people, and it is easier for us to apologize and make things right. Online, it may impact hundreds or thousands of people.
This challenge comes with a great responsibility which calls us to accountability for our words and actions. In fact, it can help to refine our hearts in how we consider and respond to others.
Q: Yours is a complex vocation then?
As Christians we have been baptized into Christ. When we are on social media, we are called to live fully out of our baptism in how we scroll, interact with posts, and converse with people.
If we can live radically out of our baptism, and truly understand that we bring Christ to even this virtual space, then we can create a real ground of encounter for people with the one who loves them most.
Source: Vatican News