CHALLENGES TO CATHOLIC SOCIAL COMMUNICATORS OF THE WESTERN REGION
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Dear Archbishop, Bishops, Sisters and Brothers gathered together at this Annual Social Communications Meeting of the Western Region Catholic Bishop's Council, here in Chanda today.
It is good to be here!
At the outset, I wish to place on record on behalf of all of us gathered here, my heartfelt felicitation to Bishop Vijay Anand Nedumpuram and the diocese of Chanda on its GOLDEN JUBILEE! Every Jubilee is a significant moment of grace…, while thanking God for all the blessings showered upon the diocese of Chanda, we pray that he may continue to bless and guide every single person in this diocese and help the Church here in every possible way to be a more communicating one in the spread of the kingdom values of justice, equality, peace and love.
We have chosen as theme for this Annual Meeting, the theme which our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has given to the world for the 46th World Communication Day this year namely, "Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization".
A superficial understanding of the theme may perhaps provoke one towards "a dumb silence". In fact, the Holy Fathers provides us with the very antithesis of this, when he says, "Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of 'eco-system', that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds."
Therefore, at the heart of this message is the courage each one of us needs, to always search for the truth by listening to the cries of our people, to be sensitive to the world around us. "Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love."
The Holy Father makes several other references to the questioning world we live in and the hunger of people to find answers. He reiterates here the indispensable services which communication plays in the task of evangelization. "The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart. The Church's mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace."
In his path-breaking Encyclical 'Caritas in Veritate', Pope Benedict very strongly emphasizes that, "Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth." (#1)
In the light of the above, those of us who have gathered here, need to ask ourselves once again, what role should we play, as Social Communicators in this Western Region of our great country?
Where the Church in India is concerned, this region is indeed vast with diversity and blaring contrast, second to none. We house some of the richest people in the world, yet we are aware of highly under-nourished children and suicides by farmers; our eco-system has a wealth that could rival the best in the universe, on the other hand total insensitivity is systematically devastating our natural wealth; while we can boast of the biggest corporate houses and multi-nationals in the country, we have hundreds and thousands of the poor and marginalized who are displaced from the land which they once called their own; while we take great pride of the variety of religions in this area, we are painfully aware that communalism and sectarianism has gripped many areas of our States; scandals, scams, corruption, police atrocities and killings, nexus among power-lobbies seem to be the in-thing in this region…..!
The CBCI General Body Meeting of January 2004 held in Trichur came out with a very powerful statement, "Called to be a Communicating Church". In their very second point, the Bishops stated, "We are happy to note that the mainstream mass media in India, by and large, have contributed greatly to uphold democratic and secular values. In the face, at times, of intense pressure from opposing forces, they have striven to safeguard the rights of citizens, particularly of the weaker sections and the minorities. We express our gratitude to the media for contributing substantially to liberate our society from the dark forces of caste and communal hatred, corruption and crime. We salute those who have stood firm in a world of market forces, refusing to surrender to sensationalism, trivialization or to the fanning of social hatred. They have demonstrated that media have a prophetic role, indeed a vocation: to speak out against the false gods and ideals of the day – materialism, hedonism, consumerism and narrow nationalism". (#2)
Further, in the same document, the Bishops very strongly stated, (#8) "Social Communications have a significant role to play in every aspect of the Church's mission, and hence they must be integrated into every Church ministry. A Pastoral Plan for Social Communications should become an integral part of the mission of the Church. We request that the CBCI Commission for Social Communications draw up a Pastoral Plan, which would include a vision and strategies to stimulate, inspire and promote Catholic activities in this field. Thereby, the whole apostolate of the media will be 'placed under a single, overall direction'."
Some sort of Pastoral Plan is indeed in place (on paper) but a careful analysis of what we do here in the Western Region, necessitate the importance to highlight some dimensions which have to be addressed very urgently:
· At the outset, we all need to appreciate the good work that is being done in the field of communications. Plenty is being done in small and big ways by several all over the region…. there is no denying that. Congrats to one and all!
Having said this, let's have the courage to critically look at the Social Communications in our region:
Ø many of us think that Social Communications is about "hi-tech Communication Centres" producing videos or audios or even publishing books; while such activities definitely play a role, to make it a focus of Social Communications is like 'missing the bus'.
Ø our diocesan magazines, parish bulletins and even our websites and blogs are-at the most-pedestrian. Very often, they are like a report of activities done by a particular priest or bishop. Our websites are hardly updated and some who blog have a tendency to inform about "pious activities taking place in a Parish or diocese"
Ø here we need to ask a key question, as Social Communicators, how many of us have seriously taken, the Pope's Message for the World Day of Peace 2012 which he addresses to all in "'Educating Young People in Justice and Peace' in the conviction that the young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world. My Message is also addressed to parents, families and all those involved in the area of education and formation, as well as to leaders in the various spheres of religious, social, political, economic and cultural life and in the media. Attentiveness to young people and their concerns, the ability to listen to them and appreciate them, is not merely something expedient; it represents a primary duty for society as a whole, for the sake of building a future of justice and peace"
Ø or for that matter, as Social Communicators, how seriously are we in the mainstreaming and in the implementation of Catholic Social Teaching?
Ø let's revisit the CBCI Message on Social Communications. One of the prerequisites is that every diocese has a Social Communication Commission, very sadly - and I say this very strongly - in this region, with the exception of two or three, practically no other diocese has a Commission! This is a serious reflection on our reality. Some dioceses in this region, have some of the most well-known Catholic lay communicators of the country; besides, some of the most well-known Communication Centres run by religious congregations, yet these dioceses still do not have a Commission! Are we afraid of our lay professionals? Are we afraid of being transparent and accountable? Do we not want to truly empower those whom we are called to accompany?
Ø Social Communications is about taking a stand, about being faithful to Christ and his message, very specially in the context of truth and justice. Jesus took a stand against the powerful of his times. He did not mince words to call them, what they actually were! He forgave those who asked for forgiveness. He did not compromise with his values nor hobnob with the 'Pilots' and 'Herods' of his time for the sake of power, position and privilege. As Social Communicators, we are called to live, witness to and proclaim the radicalness of the Gospel. Nothing less!
Ø in this context, we need to applaud the Bishops of India, who in their recently concluded CBCI General Body Meeting in Bangalore (February 8th, 2012) reiterated 'The Church's Role for a Better India…...' "She recommits herself to being a prophetic Church, taking a decisive stand in favour of the poor and marginalized. How does she as a prophetic Church plan to contribute towards a Better India?"
Ø the question we need to ask ourselves very seriously at this meeting, what is this prophetic role which we as Social Communicators can play in this our Western Region? In Goa? In Maharashtra? In Gujarat? How should we respond to the cries of our people and take a stand for truth and justice?
In this presentation, I have briefly touched on some of the challenges we face as Catholic Social Communicators in this region….Yes, I wanted to share with you, dear sisters and brothers, my pain and frustrations, my feelings. I know they are judgemental but also in total fidelity, to Christ and his message and to the teachings of the Church…..I have also done so, with a hope, that all of us become more effective Communicators in this region.
As Church, we continue to remain in the 'comfort zones' of our institutions and Church compounds. Our charity work has been too concentrated on the 'benefactor – approach' and on projects. Our ideology has been warped by institutionalization and fear or favour….as Social Communicators, we need to break out, transcend narrow walls and take a stand for what is right…!
I would like to conclude with the words of our Holy Father in 'Caritas in Veritate' (#73) "Just because social communications increase the possibilities of interconnection and the dissemination of ideas, it does not follow that they promote freedom or internationalise development and democracy for all. To achieve goals of this kind, they need to focus on promoting the dignity of persons and peoples, they need to be clearly inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth, of the good, and of natural and supernatural fraternity. In fact, human freedom is intrinsically linked with these higher values. The media can make an important contribution towards the growth in communion of the human family and the ethos of society when they are used to promote universal participation in the common search for what is just."
If we, as Social Communicators, do not pay heed to our Holy Father…who will?
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(This Presentation was made at the Annual Social Communications Meeting of the Western Region Catholic Bishop's Council (WRCBC) held in Chanda on February 18th, 2012)
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Secretary for the Social Communications of the Western Region Catholic Bishop's Council and the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
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