Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the participants of a national conference in Rome entitled "Digital Witnesses: Faces and Languages in the Cross-Media Age". This is not the first time that the Holy Father has addressed the double-edged sword nature of the internet and social networking.
The Holy Father urged his listeners to overcome the "collective dynamics that can make us lose the perception of the depth of persons and remain at the surface," seeing persons as "bodies without souls, objects of trade and consumption." He warned against the "polluting of the spirit, which makes us smile less, makes our faces gloomier, less likely to greet each other or look each other in the eye..."
The following is a transcript of the address delivered at the event that was sponsored by the Italian bishops.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
I am happy for this opportunity to meet with you and to conclude your gathering, which has had as its quite evocative theme, "Digital Witnesses: Faces and Languages in the Cross-Media Age." I thank the president of the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, for the cordial words of welcome with which, once again, he desired to express the affection and the nearness of the Church in Italy to my apostolic service. In his words the cardinal reflects the faithful adhesion to Peter of all the Catholics of this beloved nation and the esteem of so many men and women animated by the desire to seek the truth.
The time in which we live is experiencing an enormous expansion of the frontiers of communication, realizing an untold convergence between different media and making interaction possible. Thus the Internet manifests an open vocation, with an egalitarian and pluralistic tendency, but at the same time it has dug a moat about itself: One speaks, in fact, of the "digital divide." It separates the included from the excluded and adds to the other discrepancies that separate nations from each other and divide them internally. The dangers of homogenization and control, of intellectual and moral relativism, already quite evident in the bent of the critical spirit, in truth reduced to the play of opinions, in the multiple forms of the degradation and humiliation of the human person in his intimate dimension. One witnesses, then, a "polluting of the spirit, which makes us smile less, makes our faces gloomier, less likely to greet each other or look each other in the eye..." ("Speech in the Piazza di Spagna, December 8, 2009"). But this meeting points to recognizing faces and so to overcoming those collective dynamics that can make us lose the perception of the depth of persons and remain at the surface: When that happens, they are bodies without souls, objects of trade and consumption.
How is it possible today to return to faces? I tried to show the road in my third encyclical. It passes through that "caritas in veritate" that shines upon the face of Christ. Love in truth constitutes a "great challenge for the Church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized" ("Caritas in Veritate," no. 9). The media can become a factor in humanization "not only when, thanks to technological development, they increase the possibilities of communicating information, but above all when they are geared towards a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values" (no. 73). This demands that they "focus on promoting the dignity of persons and peoples, they need to be clearly inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth, of the good, and of natural and supernatural fraternity" (ibid.). Only under those conditions can the epochal journey that we are undertaking become something rich and fertile with new opportunities. Without fear we want to set out upon the digital sea embracing the unrestricted navigation with the same passion that for 2,000 years has steered the barque of the Church. More than with technical resources, although necessary, we want to qualify ourselves dwelling in this universe too with a believing heart, that contributes to giving a soul to the uninterrupted communicational flow of the Internet.
This is our mission, the Church's mission that she cannot renounce: The task of every believer who works in the media is that of "opening the door to new forms of encounter, maintaining the quality of human interaction, and showing concern for individuals and their genuine spiritual needs. They can thus help the men and women of our digital age to sense the Lord's presence" ("Message for the 44th World Communications Day, May 10, 2010"). Dear Friends, you are called to take on the role of "animators of the community" on the Internet too, attentive to "prepare the ways that lead to the Word of God," and to express a particular sensitivity to "the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute" (ibid.). The Internet could in this way become a kind of "Court of the Gentiles," where "there is also a space for those who have not yet come to know God" (ibid.).
As animators of culture and communication, you are a living sign of how much "Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level" (ibid.). In this field voices are not lacking in Italy: We need only to point to "Avvenire," TV2000, the inBlu radio network and the SIR press agency, along with Catholic periodicals, the network of weekly diocesan papers and the now numerous Catholic Web sites. I exhort all media professionals not to tire of nourishing in their heart that passion for man that draws ever closer to the languages he speaks and to his true face. You will be helped in this by a solid theological formation and above all a deep and joyful passion for God, fed by a constant dialogue with the Lord. The particular Churches and religious institutes, for their part should not hesitate to value the formation courses offered by the Pontifical universities, by the University of the Sacred Heart and the other Catholic and ecclesiastical universities, providing persons with foresight and resources. The media world should be a part of pastoral planning.
As I thank you for the service you give to the Church and therefore to the cause of man, I exhort you to walk the roads of the digital continent, animated by the courage of the Holy Spirit. Our confidence is not uncritically placed in any instrument of technology. Our strength lies in being Church, believing community, able to bear witness to all the perennial newness of the Risen One, with a life that blooms in fullness in the measure that it opens up, enters into relation, gives itself gratuitously.
I entrust you to the protection of Mary Most Holy and the great saints of communication and bless you from my heart.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier