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Laudato Sì, Signore, for the Story Within the Story

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On Friday, June 26, 2015 Fr. Thomas Rosica gave the keynote address during the Catholic Media Convention held in Buffalo, New York. Read the full text of his address, Laudato Si, Signore, for the Story Within the Story, below:

Keynote Address to the Catholic Media Convention
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

 Hyatt Regency Hotel – Buffalo, New York
June 26, 2015

Thank you for the privilege of addressing this important gathering of Catholic journalists and media colleagues from throughout North America. This afternoon I would like to speak to you about Pope Francis and how he is communicating with the Church and the world over the past two years. To begin, I wish to share a meeting I had earlier this winter as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City on behalf of the Holy See Press Office. During our conversation about Pope Francis, the senior producer of the ABC evening news who had headed up the network’s coverage of the Papal Transition two years ago remarked: “Look, Fr. Tom, whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, left or right, or nothing at all, for many of us for whom the Church was on a distant horizon, we have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.”

Incredible, Fascinating and inviting: three words that sum up well what many of us are experiencing as we try to tell the story of the Church and the current Bishop of Rome to the world around us. I would like to offer you five hermeneutical keys to understanding what is happening in five areas of the Church today: Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy. For each of these areas, it is far too easy to remain on the surface, to be captivated by quick headlines, great photo opportunities and buzz-catching expressions attributed to Pope Francis. For each of these important areas, there is a story within a story. Our work as Catholic media is not to remain on the surface but to go to the deeper level of that story within the story.

  1. Communications

Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on digital and Internet matters, several journalists with whom I deal regularly wrote or called asking me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an i-phone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo three weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility “Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”, his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

The question for us is not whether we use technology, computers, Internet and Social Media for our Catholic media efforts, program promotion, pastoral ministry, parish life, education, worship or congregational solidarity. The real question is whether the Church is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst to how the world uses these powerful instruments to communicate with others.

The new Social Media tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith… especially for those of us in Catholic media.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an i-phone, an i-pad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. In his major encyclical “Laudato Sì” released last week, he entitled a section: “Decline in the quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society.” In that section he wrote:

  1. …Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affection Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for the wisdom of Pope Francis in helping us to go beyond the surface of communications and understand the real meaning of communications in today’s Church and world.

  1. Christian Unity

Over the past two years, we have all reported in one way or another on some of the great ecumenical gestures of Pope Francis. We are moved by the Bishop of Rome during his historic visit to Phanar in Turkey, bowing before the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and asking for his blessing. We delight in the scenes of Evangelical pastors dining with the Pope at Santa Marta, of Pentecostals blessing the Bishop of Rome at assemblies, or the Pope sending a video via i-phone to Protestant friends. We have witnessed Pope Francis’ grand gestures, bold apologies and warm embraces with leaders of our sister Churches. Earlier this week during his brief pastoral visit to the Italian industrial city of Turin, Pope Francis visited a Waldensian temple in Turin. Although numbering only about 30,000 members, the Waldensian Evangelical Church is an important dialogue partner with the Catholic Church, as it is one of the only non-Catholic Christian communities native to Italy.

Recalling the painful relationship between the Waldensian Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Italy, Francis spoke of the new fraternity that “allows us to grasp the profound ties that already unite us. He then referred specifically to the violence and disputes that took place with that ecclesial community “committed in the name of the faith itself.” Pope Francis then asked for forgiveness for “the non-Christian attitudes and behavior” of the Catholic Church against Waldensians.

There are stories within stories within stories behind each of these gestures, actions, apologies and moments of fraternity and solidarity. What are they and how do we report on them? Or do we simply choose to remain on the surface of the events?

Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.

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Here is the uniqueness of Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts: A central image of the Christian life is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis’ gestures are new and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who has the humility to ask for forgiveness for our meanness and violent actions, our lack of charity and hope, and for renewing our ecumenical efforts that ‘all may be one.’

  1. Synod of Bishops

Many of you undoubtedly followed last October’s Extraordinary Synod and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. I believe that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord. You may have heard or read, or perhaps incorrectly reported or wrote that the Extraordinary Synod was about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that the Church strives to people, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is totally false. At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.

At the end of our two intense weeks together, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber. If you have not read his masterful address of Saturday evening, October 18, 2014, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a very important text and confirms once again that there is a story within the story of our journey from Synod to Synod.

Blessed Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops in 1965 to give the world’s bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative. These global gatherings have never produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.

No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. One of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods is the rediscovery of the synodal process. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations. How many times did St. John Paul II say that the “future of humanity passes through the family?”

I would like to conclude this section with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, as I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for Pope Francis who has revived the Synodal process and invited the whole Church to speak and act with parresía – Gospel boldness and courage as we discern the Lord’s path for us at this moment in history.

  1. Ecology

Last week’s encyclical, “Laudato Sì” “On the Care of our Common Home” – is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in Francis’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. To use religious language, what the Pope is calling for is conversion. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.

Against those who argue that a papal encyclical on the environment has no real authority, Pope Francis explicitly states that “Laudato Sí” is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. It continues the church’s reflection on modern-day problems that began with Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor, published in 1891.

More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

In our presentations of “Laudato Sí” to the world, we have an obligation to present the full picture of this landmark papal document. When the environmental world welcomes the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a programme of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who reminds us that we simply cannot save the world from the consequences of climate change if we continue to consume at a rate which is possible because it is only available to the few. We need to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

  1. Mercy

On March 13, Pope Francis surprised the world by a Jubilee of Mercy beginning this coming December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.

            Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: (Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’). This homily is a tribute to divine mercy.

During the first Angelus after his elections, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).

In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times. In his Angelus on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy”.

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy? Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he recently called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment (“the hidden death penalty”).

In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 of this year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues of our time, let alone answers he seeks to impose. He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time. Pope Francis has written, we cannot “allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, ‘fragmenting’ time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels toward the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis’ understanding that “The way of the church is not to condemn anyone for eternity”; rather “it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” This is what the Holy Father wants to happen during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Field Hospitals in today’s world

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. 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.

What and where are the battlefields today? Are some of them not in the very areas of Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy? For precisely in these areas we suffer from miscommunication, deafness, monologue, disunity, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, misuse of the earth, violence, hatred and unforgiveness.

Each of us can name a country or region, a city or a town where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. One big battlefield before humanity is in the very field of communications – our field – one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. It is in this 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. They need to learn how to communicate, how to listen, how to discern, how to find the truth of what is happening in the Church. And in this room, there are close to 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment. In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. Each of you has the power to restore that citizenship to so many people who are wandering and lost.

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel.” [Evangelii Gaudium #88]

And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life- many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life.

I go back to those words of my colleague, Eric, at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.” We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. Be sure to tell that story to the world.

Living in a Digital World: The Context of our Mission Today

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Address to US & Canadian Jesuit Formation Conference
“Global Mission in a Digital Age”

 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Loyola Marymount University – Los Angeles, California
June 16, 2015

Over 300 Jesuits gathered at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California this week – all Canadian and U.S. Jesuits currently in formation along with their provincials. It is the largest gathering of Jesuits in the United States in the past decade. The group includes everyone from first-year novices to men in their third year of theology. The meeting, the first in the U.S. since 2006, is being held to give these Jesuits an opportunity – sometime during their formation – to meet everyone else. The theme of the gathering, which runs from June 15-20, is “Global Mission in a Digital Age,” which reflects the fact that the mission of the Society of Jesus is no longer restricted to a Jesuit’s own province or his own country because all Jesuits need a global perspective on their ministry. Speakers at the meeting include Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, America magazine’s editor-in-chief; Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation; and Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Services.

Dear Brothers and Friends,

Thank you very much for the privilege of addressing this great assembly of 300 young Jesuits in formation and the entire leadership of the Society of Jesus in North America and many places beyond! Standing before such intelligence and creative talent gives me much hope for the Church and for the Society of Jesus. The theme of this conference is extremely appropriate for our time: “Global Mission in a Digital Age.” Last night Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, of AMERICA Media unfolded the vast canvas of the global mission before you. Today I would like to look at the digital tools needed to prepare and paint that canvas so that it can be seen, appreciated and understood by the world. Let me begin by telling you about a great Gospel artist of our times who surprisingly models for us how a truly dynamic, global mission is lived each day.

I say “surprisingly” on purpose! Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on the digital and Internet matters, several Anglophone journalists with whom I deal regularly on behalf of the Holy See Press Office have asked me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an iphone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo two Sundays ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility (“Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”), his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

To the reporter during one of those coveted in-flight press conferences on the return flight to Rome who inquired about what was meant by wasting time with television and computers, the Pope distinguished between the medium and its content. Regarding the former he makes clear that the risk comes not from the digital medium but from one’s attachment to it. Slavery of this, or any kind, is what “damages the soul and takes away freedom.” About the latter the Pope was not telling parents how to act as much as he was describing what some concerned parents do, given their legitimate fears about a child’s access to inappropriate (even dangerous) content.

We all know that computers can have terrible effect if not used properly. Easy access to personally damaging content like pornography is frightening. It is the cause of breakup many families and destroys many lives and careers. So, too, is the strength of social media to affect brain power, with research now showing that digital distractions lead young people – in many cases our students and parishioners – to be able to concentrate on a task for only 31 seconds! But computers are not the problem, nor is the Internet the problem. Our fantasies are. Removing the device does not restrict the imagination. Nor does banning the technology eliminate distraction.

Social media can make moral development a challenge, but we cannot abdicate the perennial task of education in human freedom. Therefore Jorge Bergoglio’s Stone Age wisdom in this regard is worth emphasizing: “In an age of images we must do what was done in the age of books: choose what is good for me!”

Francis’s objections to computers seem largely to be about the ways in which the Internet promotes easy access to pornography and erodes human relationships and engagement. As he himself knows, however, the Internet can bring people together as well as drive huge wedges of division between them. Technology has always done this throughout history. The newspaper brought news of other people without the need for conversation with other people. The Internet allows for proclamations – including those coming from Vatican – to reach more people faster than ever before. But let us never forget that the great digital highway is a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men & women looking for salvation or hope.

Reimagining the Body of Christ

Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded and shared their faith. Contemporary communication technologies are a gift of God for the people of God. The origins of these powerful media spring from the creative energy of an omnipotent and communicating God. The history of faith is a history of communication. The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a quick like, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message.

It can be easy to regard new media with bewilderment, even dread. They offer so many possibilities – and also present invasive challenges to our present religious lifestyle, threatening, for example, the existence of uninterrupted time for thought and mediation. This new media will not disappear; they are omnipresent. We must regard them as potentially helpful.

We can identify our expectations and anxieties about media, based on our commitments to human rights, justice (including the availability of media to all parts of our society), and the protection of vulnerable persons from exploitation (children, youth, women, person with special needs, minority groups). As any instrument placed in our hands, the Internet becomes what we ourselves decide. It needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations.

For Christians, Jesus is both the model of communication and the subject of communication. People are most authentic in all their social interactions when they are honest about themselves. This means that we should reflect the spirit of our faith in our Internet postings, including a commitment to justice, peace, honesty, and transparency, with a gracious, kind style. Contemporary media are not inherently evil or sinful. As the media dramatically reshapes society, Christians need to be cautious and wary of the negative side. Putting energy and creativity into positive expressions will help build a more humane media environment. We can join with other Christians in evaluating our media experiences.

St. Paul’s imagery describes our present situation well: the body of Christ is an apt metaphor for our cyber-friendships and associations. As “one body with many members,” social networks can help us “rejoice and suffer with each other” across vast distances quickly and often. The etymology that links the words communion, communication, and community takes on many dramatic and poignant illustrations because of the Internet.

What essential traits of personal identity are lacking in virtual communication? In online communication there is an absence of the nonverbal and paralinguistic communication codes, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. The “people of the Net” have always tried to overcome this “absence” by introducing strategies, means to give color and friendship to web communication. We can think of the little faces, the “emoticons,” the possibility of choosing a text color, of adding images, of writing in all caps, of synthesizing words, of using abbreviations, of exclamation points and questions marks, of repeated letters. This makes written communication draw very close to the spoken word.

Our external technologies will certainly continue to advance. What is very uncertain is whether our inner technologies of consciousness will grow along with them. We need to make sure we connect to that place inside us of ease and focus, the creative mind. This is where you and I have a critical role to play.

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Hindrance and/or help:
Pope Francis 2015 Message for World Day of Communications

In Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications which we celebrated on the feast of the Ascension this year, he reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”

Internet Challenges for Church  

One of the greatest challenges of the digital culture to the Catholic Church is its egalitarianism. Anyone can create a blog; everyone’s opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the Church’s credibility and approachability in the minds of many of our contemporaries, those who are growing up in this new culture. The Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish?

Our great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the full, beautiful message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology’s superficial aspects. In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.

The Internet also allows individuals to indulge in anonymity, role-playing, and fantasizing and also to enter into community with others and engage in sharing. According to users’ tastes, it lends itself equally well to active participation and to passive absorption. It can be used to break down the isolation of individuals and groups or to deepen it. The Internet can be a very positive instrument for globalization. The Internet can also be a “weapon of mass destruction!” What arms inspectors didn’t find in Iraq, they should have looked to the Internet. The “reply all” button can be a deadly weapon!

Exploitation on the Internet 

The spread of the Internet also raises a number of ethical questions about matters like privacy, security and confidentiality of data, copyright and intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, the dissemination of rumor and character assassination under the guise of news, and much else. Pornography degrades those used in its production, as well as those who are desensitized or whose values are perverted through its consumption. We must denounce pornography because we believe that it reduces the Creator’s gift of sexuality to a level that is devoid of personal dignity, commitment and spirituality. But the Internet is not only a source of problems; it is a source of great benefits to the human race. The benefits can be fully realized only if the problems are named, addressed and solved.

The downside of the “Catholic” blogosphere

 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 destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

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 can be 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!

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 and websites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

Rediscovering deliberateness and calm:
Pope Francis’ 2014 Message for World Day of Communications

“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. …”

“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? …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”.”

New Horizons & Pastoral Challenges of Social Media

Social networks and other interactive media challenge traditional church models of communication but offer unprecedented evangelizing opportunities to the Churches. We now have an opportunity to get the Church’s message and story directly to our people without having to negotiate the filters of mainstream media. We have the opportunity to connect with young Catholics to create relationships that will last their entire lives. In social media the church needs to view itself as one participant in the dialogue among many. The traditional one-way model of communication has been replaced by a more interactive model, in which everyone participates on the same level. Likewise, the relationships created in social media are a series of overlapping networks. This fits well with the church’s focus on community but not as easily with its hierarchical structure.

Social networking sites make some types of connections easier, but as they are not tied to geography or a community governed by its own social norms; they are subject to personal whims. While many of us have gotten back in touch with friends from the past via the Internet and Social Networking sites, there’s a danger as well that online interactions can hurt our real-life relationships.

Statistics indicate that social networking sites encourage young people to place an excessive importance on the number of “friends” they have instead of the quality of their real relationships. Social networking sites also encourage a form of narcissism. The sites that encourage people to “broadcast yourself,” which is the tagline for the video-sharing Web site YouTube reinforce a belief that every mundane detail of life is worth publicizing. Many people engage in personal broadcasting just because they can, but that they are often unaware that it also transforms who they are. People are not just living in the moment, but are publicizing the moment. It is a different level of experience that has real implications for the human person.

The rapid incoming of new information forces the user to pass on to the next one without reconsidering what he just read or saw. In the long run, such a habit forms insensitive and numb personalities, as they are reading the most intimate and sometimes most horrible details of other’s lives without the need of reacting to them as they would have to in a real conversation. This digital revolution and social networking evolution could be very counterproductive for the initial concept of social networks; instead of bringing people closer together, they connect users on a level without emotions and without deeper thoughts or interactions, thus slowly contributing to a world of men and women who don’t care about each other anymore.

Lessons learned

Having worked with young adults for the past 29 years of my priestly ministry, I have observed several behavioral patterns in the area of communications. The little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. People repeatedly use the term “addiction” to speak about their dependence on media. Young people’s “addiction” to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings are real. Being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit but essential to the way young people manage friendships and social lives. For many young people, going without media peeled back the curtain on a deep, hidden loneliness and anti-social behavior.

What is “news”? To some young people, news means “anything that just happened”-worldwide events and friends’ everyday thoughts.

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the headquarters of a high-tech start-up, or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. They are working away quietly at their workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPods and multiple cell phones. Some wear discreet earphones while others wear big ones akin to helicopter pilots or operators of large machinery. No one dare break the silence with a greeting of “Hello!” In the silence of connection, people are carefully kept at bay. As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the people in the elevator, on the sidewalks or in the corridors, and at one another, greeting them, smiling and talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

One day last year, several of my staff told me about an important new skill: maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done, they assured me! I didn’t believe this until it happened to me this past November when during two job interviews with a young man and a young woman, they both began texting while I spoke to them and questioned them. Needless to tell you that I ended each interview with the two and thanked them applying for the work positions. I told them that there was no work available for the next few years.

In the area of communicating with one another, we are tempted to think that our cute little phrases of online connection are substantial conversation! They are not! E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… all of these methods of communication have their places in politics, commerce, promotion, evangelization, friendship and romance! But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 1850 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

Most of all, we need to remember – in between texts, tweets, probes, likes, prompts, e-mails and Facebook posts – to listen to one another, even to the boring conversations, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate, stammer, stutter, cry and go silent, that we reveal our deepest selves to one another.

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.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)

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What does this have to do with us?

What does all this have to do with the church, with pastoral ministry, with consecrated life, with the future of the Society of Jesus in North America and the other countries from which you come? Nothing – unless the church wants to be relevant to the most powerful cultural change of our time. The question for us is not whether it can make clear use of slick technology for vocation promotion, pastoral ministry, university chaplaincy, parish life, secondary school education, worship or congregational solidarity, which are seductive opportunities for appealing to younger generations and potential adherents in general. The real question is whether the Church or the Society of Jesus is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst this cultural tsunami inundating us each day.

In your very DNA is the desire to find God in all things: the core of Ignatian Spirituality. This is the great lesson I learned through my own Jesuit education and it is rooted in our growing awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything…. even in the digital world! When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator. In all of our efforts in Social Communications and digital media, let’s remember a few key points about our citizenship in this digital 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, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we consecrated religious, teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom.

We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. Our mission is to always seek in-depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship.

To the peripheries

Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him. He spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep. The Son of God did not see that as beneath him. And if he did not consider speaking in familiar styles as undignified, then why should we?

In every age the church has used whatever media ere available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass; the Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen, some say, wrote one of the first operas; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper; your confrère Daniel Lord, S.J., jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to stunning effect; and now we have bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and Catholic lay leaders who blog and tweet. How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate the Word of God? If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can surely tweet.

We are part of this Church and we live, move and have our being within the Church. Our religious consecration – you as Jesuits and I as a Basilian in service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration in service to the Church and the bold mission of communication entrusted to the Church. One of the main themes permeating the thought of your holy founder, Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church…. and dare I say to communicate with the Church and for the Church.

Questions for personal reflection

Social networking isn’t new to Christian community. But the social media tools many use for networking today are new, and those tools are changing Christian community. The new tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Does online life threaten to obliterate religious tradition and memory?

What are Facebook, Twitter and even the online version of our favorite newspapers doing to our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our worship and reflection, our relation to the corporeal world, and our relationships with people and communities therein?

What is digital citizenship and social networking doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?

Human life is inherently social. Facebook didn’t create social networking; social networking created Facebook. Communities of faith have thrived on social networking for centuries. Paul of Tarsus was a consummate organizer and networker. His letters, journeys, visits, preaching, and teaching attest to this fact.

Digital social media are real places where people gather – like a town square or fellowship hall – and we must be present in these places just as we would be present in any of these other physical locales. If we are not there, then we are ceding the space to someone else.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an iphone, an ipad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. As he wrote wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message:

“…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.”

Field Hospitals in the Digital Universe

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. In Ignatius’s masterful work, God sees the world as a battlefield full of the dead and wounded. Immediately after this vision, Ignatius’ own gaze narrows. He beholds Mary’s room in Nazareth as well as the Divine Persons, who say: “Let us accomplish the redemption of the human race” (SE, 107). When Jorge Mario Bergoglio 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, they 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.

What and where are the battlefields today? 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 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. And in this room, there are more than 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment.

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. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). Therefore it is not adequate for the church to reflect the light of Christ onto human beings like a luminous yet static beacon. It must also be a torch. 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: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. If the church is truly a mother, it needs to respond to its children from its “guts of mercy” (Lk 1:78). Not only from its heart, but precisely from its “guts.” Thus “all are able to participate in some way in the life of the Church, all can be a part of the community, and even doors of the Sacraments should not be closed for any reason”(EG, 47).

For the greater glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam that is the mission and responsibility of each of us who hold this digital citizenship. Thank you.

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Biography

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 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. He was the Canadian Bishops’ Representative to the National Christian Jewish Consultation from 1994-2008.

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 three Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Salt and Light Television was invited to document in a very signgificant way the past two Synods of Bishops. Fr. Rosica and his team will do the same for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 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 journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning in Canada and the United States, including the Board of the Gregorian Foundation in Rome.

Photos courtesy of Doris Yu, Communications Coordinatorof the Jesuit Conference, Washington, DC.

Fr. Thomas Rosica on CBC Radio

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Fr. Thomas Rosica sat down with Karen Mair of CBC Radio on Thursday, November 13 to talk Pope Francis and communications in the Church on Mainstreet PEI. Listen to the full interview below:

Original post.

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…]