Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter

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Pope Francis released the following message for the 48th World Communication Day. The message was released by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists. World Communications Day takes place June 1, 2014.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours.  Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent.  Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family.  On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor.  Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows.  We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.  Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.  Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity.  The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another.  We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect.  A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.  Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances.  The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.  This is something truly good, a gift from God.

This is not to say that certain problems do not exist.  The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.  The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.  The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings.  The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us.  We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.  What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?  We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.  We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.  People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted.  If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.  We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?  What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel?  In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another?  These questions are summed up in what a scribe – a communicator – once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29).  This question can help us to see communication in terms of “neighbourliness”.  We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology?  I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication.  Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours.  The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him.  Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other.  Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.  I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.

Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road.  The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance.  In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response.  Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.

It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters.  We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.  We need to love and to be loved.  We need tenderness.  Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication.  The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness.  The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people.  The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others.  Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator.  Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first.  Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively.  The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope.  By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone.  We are called to show that the Church is the home of all.  Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church?  Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ.  In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts. 

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013).  We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus.  We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death.  We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.  To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.  Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration.  Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.  May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.  Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world.  The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.  She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way.  The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.

 

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(CNS Photo / L’osservatore Romano)

 

 

 

Pope Francis: Audience with the media

On Saturday, March 16, Pope Francis gathered thousands of journalists and media agencies from nearly 82 countries inside the Paul VI Audience Hall. In his address, the Holy Father spoke of how the role of mass media continues to grow and how it is indispensable for telling the stories of contemporary society. Published below is an English translation of Pope Francis’ full text.

Dear Friends,

At the beginning of my ministry in the See of Peter, I am pleased to meet all of you who have worked here in Rome throughout this intense period which began with the unexpected announcement made by my venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI on 11 February last. To each of you I offer a cordial greeting.

The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history.  I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter.  Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.

I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith.  Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith.  Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events!  But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public.  The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ.  Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity.

Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter.  Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre.  Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church.  Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.  As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her.  In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit.  He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.

It is important, dear friends, to take into due account this way of looking at things, this hermeneutic, in order to bring into proper focus what really happened in these days.

All of this leads me to thank you once more for your work in these particularly demanding days, but also to ask you to try to understand more fully the true nature of the Church, as well as her journey in this world, with her virtues and her sins, and to know the spiritual concerns which guide her and are the most genuine way to understand her.  Be assured that the Church, for her part, highly esteems your important work.  At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events.  Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful.  This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty “in person”.  It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness.

Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis.  Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi.  I will tell you the story.  During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend!  When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me.  And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected.  And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!”  And those words came to me: the poor, the poor.  Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.  Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end.  Francis is also the man of peace.  That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.

For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?  He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me.  “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…”  And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”.  “But why?”  “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!”  These were jokes.  I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done.  I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life.  I commend you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, and with cordial good wishes for you and your families, each of your families.  I cordially impart to all of you my blessing.  Thank you.

(In Spanish)

I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing.  Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God.  May God bless you!

A Penitential Time: Vatican Spokesperson on Papal Transition

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, addresses the media
Fr. Tom Rosica, CSB and Sebastian Gomes are working with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ (above) in the Holy See Press Office during the papal transition.  In his weekly editorial, Fr. Lombardi reflects on the great challenges during these uncertain times, especially regarding the mainstream media.  In the end, he reminds us that authentic media and communications maintain a degree of respectability and etiquette, always in the wider context of the search for truth.

Read his full editorial below:

The journey of the Church in these last weeks of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate and up until the election of the new Pope — passing through the sede vacante and the conclave — is very demanding, given the newness of the situation. We do not — and we rejoice — have to carry the pain of the death of a much-loved Pope, but we have not been spared another test: that of the multiplication of the pressures and considerations that are foreign to the spirit with which the Church would like to live this period of waiting and preparation.There is no lack, in fact, of those who seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the Church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander, or exercising unacceptable pressures to condition the exercise of the voting duty on the part of one or another member of the College of Cardinals, who they consider to be objectionable for one reason or another.In the majority of cases, those who present themselves as judges, making heavy moral judgments, do not, in truth, have any authority to do so. Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else, even in the Church, because they are unable to gaze toward the heights or descend to the depths in order to grasp the spiritual dimensions and reasons of existence. This results in a description of the Church and of many of its members that is profoundly unjust.

But all of this will not change the attitude of believers; it will not erode the faith and the hope with which they see the Lord, who promised to accompany his Church. According to the indications of Church law and tradition, we want this to be a time of sincere reflection on the spiritual expectations of the world and on the faithfulness of the Church to the Gospel, of prayer for the assistance of the Spirit, of closeness to the College of Cardinals that is preparing for the demanding service of discernment and choice that is asked of it and for which it principally exists.

In this, we are accompanied first and foremost by the example and spiritual integrity of Pope Benedict, who wanted to dedicate to prayer, from the start of Lent, this final stretch of his pontificate — a penitential journey of conversion toward the joy of Easter. This is how we are living it and how we will live it: in conversion and hope.


Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Perspectives Daily – Tuesday, Dec. 13

Tonight on Perspectives: We bring you details surrounding Cardinal John Foley’s funeral, Pope Benedict receives a special invitation to visit Switzerland and Catholics in Saskatoon have a reason to rejoice.

CNS Vatican Report: Upgrading the Vatican’s Image

This week brought some new developments from the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. Catholic News Service’s Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden explain one of those developments involves HDTV.

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Seven verbs for Church communicators – reflections from the 2010 Catholic Press Congress

On Thursday, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCSC), the group that oversees the Catholic Church’s activities in the world of social communications, concluded a four-day congress assessing the status of print media worldwide.  More than 250 participants from 85 countries were in Rome to exchange experiences and reestablish a collective sense of purpose for what it means to be a Catholic communicator in today’s fast-paced, cursory, fragmented and, quite often, financially-frail, media landscape. I was fortunate to be present and am grateful beyond expression.

Congresso-TorchiaFor the benefit of my peers and friends in Church communications/journalism, here is a summary of the conclusions of the congress in the form of thoughts to ponder (a form of communication that seems to have been used quite often by the President of the PCSC, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli):

Explain: Are we being understood by readers? How accessible are we making the Word of God to our audiences? Are we using the right language and the right technologies?

Show: Do we allow the social doctrine of the Church to come alive? Is the Gospel message clear in our collective media/stories when seen as a whole?

Love: Does God’s love for all of his children shine through our media? What role does Jesus play in our daily professional lives?

[Read more...]