Keeping with decades-long Vatican custom, this feast of St Francis de Sales – patron of writers and journalists – yet again brings the release of the papal message for World Communications Day, this year's focus on the theme Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.
Tied into the Year of Faith, this year's message is just the latest edition of the Communications Day text to shirk attention to older forms of media in favor of the products of the digital revolution.
Its theme always announced on late September's feast of the archangels, the WCD – the lone observance called for by the Fathers of Vatican II – will be marked on May 12th; the day always falls on the Sunday before Pentecost (now the transferred Ascension Day in most of the global church) as a link with Jesus' last command to "Go and teach all nations."
Here, the English text of B16's message.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As the 2013 World Communications Day draws near, I would like
to offer you some reflections on an increasingly important reality regarding the
way in which people today communicate among themselves. I wish to consider the
development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new
"agora", an open public square in which people share ideas,
information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community
can come into being.
These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help
to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with
concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of
unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human
family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen
into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are
called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an
effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and
information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.
The development of social networks calls for commitment:
people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for
answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding
intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are
increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring
people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are
thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart.
The culture of social networks and the changes in the means
and styles of communication pose demanding challenges to those who want to speak
about truth and values. Often, as is also the case with other means of social
communication, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of
expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their
intrinsic importance and value. Popularity, for its part, is often linked to
celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of
argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din
of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given
instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social
media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue,
reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate
forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of
those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also
flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas
are different from our own. "Given the reality of cultural diversity,
people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also
to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is
good, true and beautiful" (Address at the Meeting with the World of
Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).
The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly
inclusive: thus they will benefit from the full participation of believers who
desire to share the message of Jesus and the values of human dignity which his
teaching promotes. Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News
is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of
many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital
environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily
experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result
of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of
communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this
environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.
The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just
to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite
richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds
and hearts of all. In the digital environment the written word is often
accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of
Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to
invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. Besides, we know that
Christian tradition has always been rich in signs and symbols: I think for
example of the Cross, icons, images of the Virgin Mary, Christmas cribs,
stained-glass windows and pictures in our churches. A significant part of
mankind’s artistic heritage has been created by artists and musicians who
sought to express the truths of the faith.
In social networks, believers show their authenticity by
sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and
loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This sharing consists not only in the
explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in
which they communicate "choices, preferences and judgements that are fully
consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically" (Message
for the 2011 World Communications Day). A particularly
significant way of offering such witness will be through a willingness to give
oneself 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. The growing dialogue in social networks about faith and belief
confirms the importance and relevance of religion in public debate and in the
life of society.
For those who have accepted the gift of faith with an open
heart, the most radical response to mankind’s questions about love, truth and
the meaning of life – questions certainly not absent from social networks –
are found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is natural for those who have faith
to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the
digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring
forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to
touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s
work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means. In the
digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be
raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive
discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of
God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in
"a still, small voice" (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the
fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning
and truth – a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man
and woman – keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman
called the "kindly light" of faith.
Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization,
can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical
and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can
reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers.
The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources,
helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the
same faith. An authentic and interactive engagement with the questions and the
doubts of those who are distant from the faith should make us feel the need to
nourish, by prayer and reflection, our faith in the presence of God as well as
our practical charity: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but
have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).
In the digital world there are social networks which offer
our contemporaries opportunities for prayer, meditation and sharing the word of
God. But these networks can also open the door to other dimensions of faith.
Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially
made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and
even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith. In
our effort to make the Gospel present in the digital world, we can invite people
to come together for prayer or liturgical celebrations in specific places such
as churches and chapels. There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the
expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are
called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in
any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends
of the earth.
I pray that God’s Spirit will accompany you and enlighten
you always, and I cordially impart my blessing to all of you, that you may be
true heralds and witnesses of the Gospel. "Go into all the world and preach
the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15).
From the Vatican, 24 January 2013, Feast of Saint Francis de
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI