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 who now serves in the US city of Boston and around the world.
By Roberto Cetera
Is it possible to evangelize with a smile? The answer to this question seems to be an emphatic yes when looking through the Instagram posts posted by Sr. Orianne Pietra René, a young girl from Saint Paul, a Canadian now stationed at the North American publishing house of the Pauline sisters in Boston, United States.
Browsing 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 skill on social networks and her witty humor, has an extraordinary talent for mimicry.
But his irony is never an end in itself; on the contrary, it always offers an invitation to the spiritual and reminds its 33,000 faithful to the Gospel.
“I entered religious life at 27,” says Sr. Orianne, “and made my first vows as a Daughter of Saint Paul in July 2021.”
Q: And what was your life like before?
I had no intention of becoming a nun. As a convert to Catholicism, I spent my teens and early twenties studying, working, traveling, and growing in my faith. I went to university to study anthropology and international development, then went on to study education. I worked as a teacher in the UK for a year and then returned to Canada where I taught French to children from kindergarten to grade 7. I have also been active in youth ministry in our local parish.
I loved working with children and teenagers. I began to realize that there was a real spiritual famine in my children. This realization opened me to a desire for something more. Then, when a priest asked me in confession if I had ever considered my vocation, I began to wonder (with great panic at the time!) if the Lord was calling me to religious life.
Since I was in a very rural area, there weren’t many nearby communities that I could talk to, so I started looking online. It was there that I first met the Daughters of Saint Paul.
Q: Sr. Orianne, you seem to think that there is a continuity between pastoral activity on social networks and the fact that your vocation was born of it. How did you first get involved in this digital pastoral? Did your superiors ask 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 joined Girls, but my accounts were all private. I just used it to share with my family and friends.
When I became a sister, I felt that the Lord was inviting me to answer this call entirely, including my social networks. After discerning this invitation with my sisters, I changed my social media accounts to public and started sharing with all my heart with the people of God.
Q: Your videos are very original and ironic. Was it planned or is it part of your personality?
In fact, I never post anything unless I feel the Spirit prompting me to share. I like to find humor in life. I think God has an incredible sense of humor and it even comes out in the scriptures!
At the same time, I feel very deeply the needs and sufferings of people. I hope my videos can make people smile and the messages written below bring healing to people’s hearts.
Q: Is it difficult to convey 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 experience this love – a love that lives, heals and invites us to newness. This is the Gospel message. This is what I hope to share.
Q: Who are your followers?
Each of my followers is a precious child of God. I’m grateful to have a little family on social media that actually prays together – I pray for them, they pray for me, and they pray for each other. It’s so humbling to see this incredible community forming in the comments of a video.
My followers are pretty evenly split between boys and girls, and they range from teens to their 60s. They come from all over the world – I’ve had amazing conversations with people in 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 periods of doubt, return to prayer and conversions to Catholicism.
I still cry every time I hear about someone who started RICA because they interacted with our sisters on social media, whether it was me or someone else. I rejoice that the Lord has used both the fun and serious posts on my account, and the accounts of my other sisters, to create a safe environment for people to come, ask, question, debate, learn, venture and be transformed by the love of Christ.
Q: What risks can arise from digital religious communication?
On social media, posts have the potential to reach people you might never have thought of. We must always be open to the Spirit’s leading in what and how we share: am I sharing love in truth? Am I creating a division in the way I express myself or am I inviting people to a respectful dialogue?
One of the greatest risks of religious digital communication is accidentally counter-testifying to the gospel by posting or reacting in haste and without thinking. When we make this mistake in real life, our words can impact one or two people, and it’s easier for us to apologize and fix things. Online, it can impact hundreds or thousands of people.
With this challenge comes a great responsibility that calls us to account for our words and actions. In fact, it can help refine our core in how we view and respond to others.
Q: So your vocation is complex?
As Christians, we have been baptized into Christ. When we are on social media, we are called to fully experience our baptism in the way we scroll, interact with posts, and converse with people.
If we can live radically from our baptism and really understand that we bring Christ even into this virtual space, then we can create a real meeting ground for people with the one who loves them most.