Celebrating Social Communications
The Golden Jubilee of “Inter Mirifica”
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
December 4th 2013 is the Golden Jubilee of “Inter Mirifica” (the Decree on the means of Social Communications) which is a key document in the life and message of the Second Vatican Council. The Golden Jubilee coming in exactly ten days after the “official” closing of the ‘Year of Faith’ is symbolic indeed: it opens up new doors and avenues for all!
Inter Mirifica focuses on the role of communications and the responsibility of the Church to monitor it. “The Church, our mother, knows that if these media are properly used they can be of considerable benefit to mankind. They contribute greatly to the enlargement and enrichment of men’s minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God. But the Church also knows that man can use them in ways that are contrary to the Creator’s design and damaging to himself. Indeed, she grieves with a mother’s sorrow at the harm all too often inflicted on society by their misuse.” (#2)
The document for the very first time brings in the whole realm of social communications within the Church. Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd, the former Executive Secretary of the FABC OSC in an article, “Called to be a Communicating Church” says, “When the Vatican II document “Inter Mirifica” was presented to the Council fathers in 1962 it had right in the beginning a footnote which proposed to use the expression “Social Communication”. Following a suggestion of the late Fr. Enrico Baragli, sj the preparatory commission for the document proposed this new expression because they felt that names like mass media, media of diffusion, audio-visual media would not be sufficient to express fully the concern of the Church in the field of communication. This was unanimously accepted without further detailed discussion and the expression became the official ‘label’ for the Church’s communication activities.”
There is another specificity of “Inter Mirifica”: Vatican II for the first time designated for the Universal Church a special day and that is the observance of a day for communications. “To make the Church’s multiple apostolates in the field of social communication more effective, a day is to be set aside each year in every diocese, at the bishop’s discretion, on which the faithful will be reminded of their duties in this domain.” (#18). This was later changed to ‘World Communications Day’ (normally the Sunday before Pentecost; but in India we observe it on the Sunday before the Feast of Christ the King). This path-breaking document not only ensured the establishment of an Office for Social Communications in the Church but also for very powerful and relevant messages issued by the Holy Father every year, which is released to the world on January 24th, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of Church Communications.
In September last, Pope Francis while addressing the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome said “the Decree (Inter Mirifica) expresses the Church’s solicitude for communication in all its forms which are important tools in the work of evangelization”. He went on further to say, “the world of Communications, more and more has become an ‘environment’ for many, one in which people communicate with one another expanding their possibilities for knowledge and relationship. I wish to underline these positive aspects notwithstanding the limits and the harmful factors that also exist and which we are all aware of.”
It is significant therefore that in January 2004, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) at their meeting in Trichur gave to the Church in India plenty of food for thought and action in their statement “Called to be a Communicating Church”.
In this Golden Year of ‘Social Communications’, all of us are challenged to reflect and act urgently on many critical dimensions of this all-pervasive ministry. These include:
- have we as Church taken Social Communications seriously?
- have we understood its power and potential in our works of evangelization?
- do we have a Social Communications Commission in our diocese? (the Commission should necessarily constitute persons from all walks of life and these should include lay professionals in communications)
- do we have competent spokesperson/s in our diocese?
- do we engage as Church vocally and visibly in confronting injustices that plague our society like discrimination, displacement, corruption, communalism, casteism, etc?
- have we prophetically denounced the grave ills in our society in order to boldly proclaim the ‘good news’?
- do we engage in social media on important issues concerning Constitutional rights and freedoms of all?
These and several other concerns can be raised - all of them have been reflected in Inter Mirifica and in the many pastoral messages written on Communications by the Holy Father every year.
It is therefore not without reason that Pope Francis has chosen as theme for his first message on World Communications Day 2014 “Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter”. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications says that “this will explore the potential of communication especially in a networked and connected world, to bring people closer to each other and to cooperate in the task of building a more just world.”
This theme in fact truly reflects all that Inter Mirifica is about: “the proper exercise of this right (to information) demands that the content of the communication be true and – within the limits set by justice and charity – complete.” (#5) and “all the members of the Church should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service of the multiple forms of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible, where and when they are needed. They should forestall projects likely to prove harmful, especially in those regions where moral and religious progress would require their intervention more urgently.” (#13)
We have indeed a clarion call to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Inter Mirifica by ensuring that the Church’s Teachings on Social Communications are put into practice at every level.
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He is also the Secretary for Social Communications of the Western Regional Bishops’ Council)