VATICAN CITY — In his first message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of creating a culture of encounter, explaining 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 message — released Jan. 23, in time for the Jan. 24 feast day of the patron of journalists, St. Francis de Sales — adding that “media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances.”
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.”
Challenges for Real Encounter
“Media can help us to feel closer to one another,” the Pope said, adding that “the Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” which is “a gift from God.”
Reflecting on certain challenges the area of communications brings, the Holy Father said 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 confirms “their own wishes and ideas.”
Despite the fact that these drawbacks exist, the Holy Father stressed that they do not “justify the rejecting of social media,” but, rather, remind us that authentic communication is a “human” achievement and not a “technological achievement.”
Stating the importance of recovering our sense of “deliberateness and calm,” as well as the ability to “be silent and listen,” the Pope said that “people only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted.”
Witness Like the Good Samaritan
“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 everyone is our neighbor.
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 said. He explained 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.”
He said, “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, he 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.
Be Citizens of the Digital World
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,” he 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.
He said, “May we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”