S3E3 – Pastoral, Powerful Messages from “World Communications Days”
This episode of Series 3 (“Love Always Communicates”) moves on from the Second Vatican Council to look at a long-running series of annual messages spawned by the Council and its document on social communications, Inter Mirifica. That document set the stage for the Vatican to observe a World Communications Day every year, proclaiming the connection of Catholic values to some aspect of the growing, ever-changing communications environment. The first of those messages was issued in 1967 by Saint Pope Paul VI, and 2020 is the year of the 54th message.
World Communications Day occurs on the Sunday before Pentecost. The Papal message for that day is posted well in advance on January 24, the feast day of Saint Francis De Sales, patron of all journalists and of Catholic communications. Here’s a blog post Bill wrote about the saint, connecting his Introduction to the Devout Life with the art of Christian conversation.
In discussing these annual documents of reflection and instruction, Bill and Ken mentioned the “newsworthy” nature of Pope Francis’s 2018 message, “The Truth Shall Set You Free: Fake News and Journalism of Peace.” Bill recalled this document captured his attention as a journalist and spotlighted the Pope as a distinctive voice among world leaders: Francis was, and is still today, identifying weaknesses in our information flows and communications culture at the roots of global frictions and factions.
One underlying theme in the Pope’s comments which have gone beyond the 2018 message to some of his more recent statements, is the idea of communication as the basis for community. As with Inter Mirifica and other relevant documents, Francis is saying that communications media should not be viewed merely as instruments of technology and information transfer, but also as forces that can influence the health of society—through our relationships with each other and with the Lord. Fitting with that message of the widespread need for spiritual growth, Pope Francis concluded his 2018 message with a prayer—a version 2.0 of the beloved Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. He reworded the prayer to ask for renewal and peacefulness in the realm of journalism and journalists, and drew a powerful connection between “mass media” and the role of individuals in providing loving service and compassion as members of a true human community. The pursuit of greater solidarity and integrity amid torrents of information can’t make progress unless we are communicating God’s love to each other in everyday life. Our task of discipleship through the media is local and global, inter-personal and institution-wide.
Ken pointed out that Pope Saint John Paul’s 1994 World Communications Day message discussed “guidelines for good viewing” of television as a family. The Holy Father warned that television can cut people off from their families and other realities, distorting their spiritual and community lives. This is very similar to Pope Francis’s messages about smart phones and digital culture contributing to human isolation, a theme he stressed in his 2019 World Communications Day message, “We Are Members One of Another.” From the context of “TV” in 1994 to the more omnipresent subject of “screens” in 2019, the Church’s call to unity and truth remains fundamentally unchanged.
The 2019 message carries an important reminder about the need for community – especially in the digital realm, where face-to-face interaction is minimized. Pope Francis says we too often exclude others because they are “different” or they express disagreement with what we ourselves deem to be the truth. Pope Francis calls us to consider others not as adversaries, but as people who are to be loved and valued precisely because of their God-given uniqueness. Parish and family life are all about the embrace of all of the different people within the community, seeking stronger communion—a deep fellowship based on our shared values and our shared journey.
We will discuss Pope Francis’s message for the 2020 World Communications Day in a special episode to be released as soon as your intrepid hosts have had a chance to digest and reflect on it. Keep your ears peeled!