Thank you for the invitation to be with you this morning at the 69th Convention of the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO CLC. It is a privilege to stand before thousands of men and women working in the areas of communications, media, hospitality, and travel from the United States of America and Canada- men and women who are truly ambassadors linking people together. In fact we are all involved in the work of communications- of using words to build up, of connecting human beings across the face of the earth and giving deeper meaning to life.
I would like to speak to you about one of the greatest communicators who ever walked the face of the earth, and in particular this very earth of Toronto only five years ago for World Youth Day 2002- the Polish man born as Karol Wojtyla, whom you all knew as Pope John Paul II.
While Pope John Paul II did leave behind a spiritual testament that was read to the cardinals and later shared with the world after his death, his last major formal document was an Apostolic Letter entitled The Rapid Development, released on January 24, 2005. It was addressed “To Those Responsible for Communications” and contains an important message to every media mogul, copy editor, reporter, writer, broadcaster, web master, blogger and communications worker, whether Roman Catholic or not.
A “spirituality of communication” is one of the major contributions of the letter that is none other than John Paul’s Testament on Social Communications. It is not a coincidence that the last document of this great Pope should be on the theme of Communications, for if any church leader ever embodied and exemplified the great communicator, it was John Paul II.
The contents of this remarkable document were somewhat eclipsed by the late Pope’s final suffering and death, and the election of his successor. In Rapid Development, John Paul was concise in reviewing the Christian view of history: "Salvation History recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communication.” He then notes that history's greatest communicator, Jesus, used a variety of techniques: "He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in parables, dialogues within the intimacy of the home, speaks in the squares, along the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops. The personal encounter with him does not leave one indifferent…”
John Paul II also stated that "The media provides a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space, and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus."
The Pope said that communicators, both within and outside the church, must apply in their own lives those values and behavior that they are called to teach others. The communicator is not only one who practices his work, but someone who "lives" his work. As communicator, the person transmits a view and, therefore, becomes a witness. Communicators must be witnesses of values that are good for society. Communications and the media become instruments at the service of peace, at the service of the development of human society.
But there was also a warning and a challenge in this brief document: "Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting.”
Throughout his nearly 27 year Pontificate, John Paul II taught us that communication is power. He told us to use that power wisely. Prudently get our message out and it will have a shot at bearing fruit, despite obstacles. And if anyone knew about obstacles, John Paul II did- having lived long and prospered, despite being faced from the very beginning with the tyranny of Nazism and then Communism.
As the curtain was about to fall for the last time for the Great Communicator John Paul II in early April 2005, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. Yet nothing made him waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed Parkinsonian mask, and ultimately his inability to speak and move. I am convinced that the most powerful message he preached was when the words and actions failed. It was then, in the passion of Karol Wojtyla, that the world saw what authentic communication was all about. Authentic communication is born of human solidarity and compassion.
The forces he partially unleashed against authoritarian regimes during his lifetime were only side-effects of the way the man who began life as Karol Wojtyla viewed humanity. At the beginning of the third millennium, we have economic globalization. But this must be accompanied by a moral globalization.
Whether or not one shares John Paul II's motivating beliefs, one can certainly acknowledge that his was the most impressive attempt so far made by any single human being to spell out what moral globalization might mean, starting with a lived practice of universal solidarity, charity, and hope. And he did this by communicating his message boldly and respectfully wherever he went.
He taught us that there is much more to the Church and the papacy than preaching, speaking, writing, greeting people and traveling -- although he certainly did enough of all of that. He communicated through spontaneous, symbolic actions that were often more eloquent than some of his speeches, homilies and encyclicals- especially his finally moments on the world stage. Those actions were often powerful symbols.
The word 'symbol' comes from the Greek word 'symbolein' -- 'to bring together'; it's the opposite of the Greek word 'diabolein,' 'to break apart, to divide' -- the origin of our word ‘diabolical.’ Symbolic actions help to bring people together in peace and in love. Up to the moment of his death -- and even after, Pope John Paul II was bringing people together in peace and in love. This is communication at the service of truth. Who can ever forget his global funeral which brought the world to a standstill in April 2005?
We had in John Paul a brilliant teacher, communicator and model of goodness and humanity… a wise communicator who would become a “Pontifex Massmediaticus”. He began his historic service to the world with words that would become the refrain of the past 27 years: "Do not be afraid!” Would that many of us in the Church, in the media world, in our unions and professions, take these words to heart! Think of the walls that might come tumbling down! Imagine the bridges that would be built!
And so I pray for you and with you today these words in light of the life and example of a great communicator, Karol Wojtyla, now the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II:
May you be praised Lord,
for the communicators and communications workers,
writers, artists, directors,
and all those whose gifts light up
both theatre and cinema and provide audiences
with heightened awareness of their human condition.
May you be praised Lord for all those who labor painstakingly with words
especially in our newspapers, journals and magazines-
those who try to communicate with us the mystery,
the truth and the beauty of human life.
We thank you Lord God,
for the unending Pentecost of your creative Holy Spirit
which enables your sons and daughters to catch fire
from your own word, truth, beauty and goodness.
Help all of the communications workers, media experts, airline personnel,
gathered here today in Toronto to be deeply convinced of the great vocation
you give to each person to build bridges, not walls,
to make their words become flesh
so that the blind may see,
the deaf hear,
and poor may have the Good News proclaimed
to them by all who rejoice in their God-given talents
and their gift of splendid creativity.
May the Servant of God John Paul II touch each of you
and help you not to be afraid of serving the truth and loving life. Amen.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network
Former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day 2002 and Papal Visit to Canada