How should the Catholic press deal with today’s challenges in today’s digital age? This was the central concern of a Rome congress held by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The Oct. 4-7 meeting brought together representatives of the Catholic press from around the world. To hear about the discussions at the gathering, the Register spoke with the president of the pontifical council, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli.
What did the conference achieve?
The congress was positive in itself. We had representatives from 85 countries. They were chosen by their bishops’ conferences and so were representative of their communities, their country and what Catholic media can do in the field of communication.
But what does the Catholic press mean for us? The answer was very clear from the congress: The Catholic press isn’t only addressing the Catholic community, but has to address everyone. So we can talk about a double fidelity of the Catholic press. The first, being Catholic, is to the Gospel. But the other fidelity is to men and women of today. The Catholic press has to deeply perceive what human beings have in their heart: their needs, hopes, sufferings and joys. The role of the Catholic press is to accompany humanity today, perceiving their quests, their problems, to try to enlighten them, to help them have a very deep reflection on humanity and, at the same time, being faithful to the Gospel. The Catholic press must be qualified in such a search for truth, because when we are talking about fidelity to the human being, we must underline that, for us, it’s the search for the truth of humanity; and certainly the Catholic community has some points of reference at perceiving who the human being is. So, for us, this is very important: to help people rediscover the meaning of life.
That’s similar to what the Pope said in his address to the congress: that the world “needs to live ‘as if God does exist’ ... otherwise all it produces is ‘inhuman humanism.’”
Yes, we must rediscover the real meaning of this. He is talking about the ultimate, not the penultimate things; so, the real meaning of life, because we are living in a time of great relativism, and, certainly, the Catholic press is operating in a multicultural and multireligious society. I think that, for us, this must favor the search for a meaning in life and supports this search for the infinite. I have said many times there is this longing for God that is present in the heart of a human being. Men and women today need to discover exactly what such a longing is, which we think is a longing, a “nostalgia” for God. We think that the Catholic press participates in this search and shares this role with humanity, working with people. The Catholic press really must undertake such a service.
What are your views on the current challenges facing the Catholic press in the form of digital media?
It’s not only the Catholic press that is facing such a challenge, also secular newspapers. A “digital-born” person spends his time with his computer rather than reading the newspapers, because young generations of a certain education prefer to read newspapers through their computer. But I think that the press, whatever form it is, will remain. I don’t think it’ll disappear. Up until now, from what we can perceive, it’s remaining; it’s still playing a role. But what we feel would be better is more cooperation and mutual understanding, mutual perception, a harmony between the written and digital press. This is a big challenge for us, a technological one. But my main concern is what communication really is, because, if we forget that, the outcome won’t be so positive.
There was an interesting online debate recently which posed the question: “Is the Internet helping the Church to spread the Gospel?” Do you think it is?
The Internet is creating great opportunities, no doubt, but we have to go back to the very important question: What is communication? Just to have technical possibilities, even if they are relevant, is not a solution to communication, because you need to know what communications are and how to communicate. This is, for us, a very complex vision. When I was in Asia, in a meeting with people involved in communications, I said, for example, that music is communication, and so is dance. We Europeans are a little more intellectual, but I think communication is not only an intellectual exercise; it also involves gestures. Consider, for example, when two people are in love: The communication of love is not only in words; there’s also the glance, smile or gesture. So we have to rediscover what communication really is. It’s the same also with religious feelings. I can express something better with music and songs, while in certain cultures, it can be expressed with dance.
Are you concerned with how uncharitable people can be on blogs, not treating others with the deference they deserve?
As a matter of fact, just now, I was reading a blog which was not so nice. On the one hand, you have the technical opportunities, and on the other how to use such opportunities. I can be wrong in using it. Again, what’s emerging is the human factor in any communication. So I cannot reduce communications only to the technical, because, certainly, technology is giving us great opportunities. But the more important factor of the human heart remains. And here we have to grow up and increase our capacities, because if I don’t deal with the heart of the human being to whom I am addressing, I am losing. I don’t communicate. One’s going back to the real meaning of communications, the relationship of a person to another person or a person to a community, or a community to a person. We must stress the human aspect of communication, otherwise we have lost.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.