In his first message for World Communication Day, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of creating a culture of encounter, highlighting how media should always be a service which goes out to meet others.
“A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive,” the Pope stated in his Jan. 23 message,” adding that “media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances.”
During the Jan. 23 press conference announcing the Pope’s message in honor of the 48th World Communications Day, to be celebrated on June 1, Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, noted that the address is “very Francescano.”
Msgr. Celli highlighted that the pontiff’s message, which reflects on the theme “Communications at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” is “very endearing,” and “typically his.”
In the beginning of his address, Pope Francis stated that although we are living in an increasingly “smaller” world where developments of technology and travel “bring us closer together” and make us “more connected,” divisions which are often “quite deep” still exist.
“On a global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor,” he noted, adding that “our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty.”
“Media can help us to feel closer to one another,” the Pope observed, adding that “the internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” which is “a gift from God.”
However, reflecting on certain challenges the area of communications faces, the pontiff expressed that the “speed with which information is communicated” can inhibit “our capacity for reflection and judgment,” which cripples “balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”
Although the wide variety of opinions online can often be helpful, the Pope warned that they can also enable people to “barricade themselves” behind a wall of information which only confirm “their own wishes and ideas.”
Despite the fact that these drawbacks exist, the pontiff stressed that they do not “justify the rejecting of social media,” but rather remind us that authentic communication is a “human,” and not a “technological achievement.”
Emphasizing the importance of recovering our sense of “deliberateness and calm” as well as the ability to “be silent and listen,” the Pope observed that “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?” he asked, explaining that the answer can be found in the Gospel when Jesus states that all are our neighbors.
In order to truly understand communication in the sense of “neighborliness” the Pope continued, we can look to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Not only does the Samaritan come close to the man he finds on the road, “he takes responsibility for him,” the Pope recalled, highlighting that through this image Jesus shifts our understanding so that we no longer see “the other as someone like myself,” but have the ability of making ourselves “like the other.”
“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...we cannot be live apart, closed in on ourselves.”
“The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness” stated the Pope, adding that “personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator.”
Turning to our witness as Christians, the pontiff explained that, “thanks to the internet,” we are able to “reach the peripheries of human existence.”
“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 search for truth and meaning,” he said, quoting Benedict XVI’s message for last year’s communications day.
Pope Francis concluded his message by praying that the image of the Good Samaritan be an inspiration for all in the communications field.
“Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts,” he stated, expressing his hope that the “light” we bring will not be “the result of cosmetics or special effects,” but rather of being “loving and merciful ‘neighbors.’”
“Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world,” the pontiff exclaimed, adding that “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.”
“The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge,” noted the Pope.
“May we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”