Watch Fr. Thoms Rosica, CSB, deliver the keynote above!
To commemorate World Communications Day this past Sunday, DeSales Media Group, the communications ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, hosted today the 25th diocesan World Communications Day Catholic Media Conference at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. Blessed Paul VI in 1967 established World Communications Day as a time to explore how modern means of social communication can best be utilized by the Church. Pope Francis has selected the theme “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.”
What was once a local celebration has grown into a full-scale conference of media influencers. The purpose is to connect, inspire and bring together Catholic television, print and digital content creators, entertainers, innovators and media executives.
Two years ago, the Most Rev. Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, received the Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Upon winning, he spoke about the urgency of being proficient in social media.
During this year’s conference, the Diocese of Brooklyn honored Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Rosica to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, Fr. Rosica has worked closely with Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and has related on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. During this time, he also served as media attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. At Salt + Light, he has been executive producer of more than 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network during the past 13 years.
Upon reception of the prestigious award from Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the DeSales Media Group, Fr. Rosica delivered the following address:
Address of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Catholic Media Conference of the DeSales Media Group
New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, New York – May 11, 2016
Dear Friends of De Sales Media Group,
You have honored me with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award this morning, but I wish to pay tribute to you, the De Sales Media Group, which I consider to be one of the finest Catholic media operations in North America. Your group, named after St. Francis DeSales, patron saint of writers and journalists, has specialized in the delivery of Catholic news, information, entertainment and religious programs on many platforms simultaneously. Your creative works have crossed and united borders, cultures and generations and your cable channel, with which we at Salt and Light Television have the great pleasure of collaborating, has a unique, contemporary mission on air and on line, always adapting itself to your new audiences. What I admire very much about your work is that you have avoided the great temptation in religious communications and broadcasting to remain prisoners of nostalgia, enchained by the past. Instead, your activities are firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition and pointed to a future of hope. You open doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of all men and women.
Isn’t this the heart of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis? Aren’t these the lessons he has been teaching us over the past three years? Contrary to some voices which think he is a great revolutionary who has rocked the boat, or even sunk the ship, Francis has not overturned doctrine and age-old beliefs that are the bedrock of our Catholic Christian faith. He simply wishes to make those teachings understandable and part of our lives. Pope Francis has the boldness and courage to ask deep questions and he is unafraid to start a conversation and remain with it. Francis rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church only to discussions and heated debates. Pope Francis makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions that have poisoned our cultures in North America.
We must stand for something much greater than division, rancor, labeling and meanness of spirit that have dominated politics and infected the Church. He calls for a church ‘of and for the poor’ that is not turned in on itself, but ‘in the streets.’ He reminds us forcefully that the culture of prosperity deadens us. Francis speaks with authority and integrity because he has lived the church’s social teaching in his own ministry. His love for Jesus Christ is contagious and we are all infected by it. This elderly bishop from Argentina walks his talk and walks the walk.
In his highly appropriate and timely message for this year’s World Day of Communications, celebrated on Ascension Sunday, Francis chose Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter as the theme of this year’s Communication Day. At the heart of the 2016 message is the mercy of God. It is so complementary to the special Jubilee Year of Mercy being experienced throughout the whole Church, which, Pope Francis says, “is called to practice mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does … Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”
Some of the key points from this year’s World Communications Day message are the following:
- We are reminded that to communicate in an authentic manner we must be able to ‘listen’ to, rather than merely ‘hear’, when we encounter another.”
- If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
- As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception.
- Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.
- Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.
- Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mind-set that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts.
- Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.
- Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.
The necessity of dialogue
Time and time again over the past three years, Francis has reminded us of the necessity of dialogue with others, and this is a very important part of our mission in the area of Catholic media and broadcasting. Each and every one of us is called to be an instrument and agent of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls. When he addressed the bishops of the United States gathered in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC last September 23, 2015, Pope Francis said to his brother bishops of the US:
“And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. …Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”
“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
Last Friday as he received the prestigious Charlemagne prize in a special ceremony in the Vatican, Pope Francis once again emphasized the necessity and capacity for dialogue. He spoke these provocative words to the audience that included leaders of many European nations and governments:
“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building “a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter” and in creating “a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society” (Evangelii Gaudium, 239). Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. In this way, we will bequeath to them a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.”
“This culture of dialogue should be an integral part of the education imparted in our schools, cutting across disciplinary lines and helping to give young people the tools needed to settle conflicts differently than we are accustomed to do. Today we urgently need to build “coalitions” that are not only military and economic, but cultural, educational, philosophical and religious. Coalitions that can make clear that, behind many conflicts, there is often in play the power of economic groups. Coalitions capable of defending people from being exploited for improper ends. Let us arm our people with the culture of dialogue and encounter.”
These words not only referred to the political and diplomatic efforts of nations, but also the vocation and mission of each of us involved in Catholic communications, broadcasting and media. How do we allow our media platforms to become transmitters of the rich and beautiful Catholic tradition while at the same time serving as instruments of dialogue with the peoples, traditions and cultures around us? How do our platforms and various entities “build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples?” How do we become agents and vehicles of tenderness and mercy? Or do we simply contribute to the acrimony, division, vengeance, condemnation and hatred present in so many parts of the world? In his vision and blueprint for ministry, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.
Francis has rebranded Catholicism
After three years at the helm of the Church, we must ask ourselves: What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?”, the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.”
Today I dare say that the response is somewhat different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a Pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor and for displaced peoples roaming the face of this earth. Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.
Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding. He has also ruffled many feathers and upset some folks because of his free-flowing, unscripted remarks at times, and he raises a few eyebrows now and then!
The inability of some media commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap that liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a Pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.
Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized – social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.
In this year’s message for the 2016 World Day of Communications, Francis writes:
“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”
Let me conclude by taking up one of Pope Francis’ favorite images which has certainly been seized by the media: the powerful image of the “field hospital.” This expression is not unique to Francis, but is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. When Francis speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.” It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversation and meeting, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds.
I offer you two areas where field hospitals are badly needed in our media and communications efforts, projects and programs. And not only hospitals are needed but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.
New Media and Authentic Catholic Communications
There is no question that the Church has entered the whole world of New Media with bravado and great zeal. I am concerned at times that we do so without careful reflection on what is really happening in this new universe. Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflective the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet and digital culture condition us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom.
Pope Francis warns us: “some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off”. He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (EG#88)
The Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere
Let me identify a second battleground where a field hospital is badly needed in our media efforts. We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. But the big battlefield before humanity is also the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. You only need a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device. It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.
In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation. What view do others have of us when they view our blogs? If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything! If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture. To what degree are our blogs, websites and programming the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?
Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith! The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!
On these new battlefields today, the Church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation – often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. The light of Christ reflected in the Church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor or ghetto network of communications for the elite, the clean, the perfect and the saved. This would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.
From the Pope’s Message for this year’s World Day of Communcations, we must never forget this critical point:
“Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”
Thank you for the privilege of being here with you. Thank you for the honor you have given me with the St. Francis DeSales Award. If we remember Francis de Sales today, is it not for the call to holiness for all people in all walks of life, the necessity of living in the “present moment” as the privileged opportunity to know and live God’s will, the goodness of creation, the centrality of love and freedom in one’s relationship with God and the world, the sanctity of the “ordinary” done “passionately well” and the gentleness, humility, optimism and joy that come from living in truthfulness? In the person of Pope Francis, we have a great role model who has given flesh and blood to Francis DeSales’ modus operandi. Francis of Buenos Aires is a mover and shaker of human hearts and consciences, a living witness to what happens when communications and mercy meet. Let us learn from him how to model this badly needed kindness, goodness, mercy and joy to a wounded world and broken humanity around us.
Biography of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Fr. Rosica has lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.
In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002. On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network. In that capacity, he has been Executive Producer of over 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network over the past 13 years. Salt and Light is known for the many young women and men who are the faces, minds and hearts of that very creative network.
Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office, working closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and relating on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world.
Fr. Rosica is a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Consortium Foundation in Rome. He has received honors from the Governments of Great Britain, Italy and Israel as well as an Honorary Doctorate from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. In June 2015, Fr. Rosica was awarded the Clarion Award by the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals in North America. The Academy honored him as “Broadcaster, Filmmaker and Church Spokesman whose portrayal of the Catholic Church brings the light of the Gospel to millions.”
Photos: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications and Head of DeSales Media Group. Photo courtesy of DeSales Media Group by Robert Longo