CHALLENGES ON WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY
(1st June 2014)
“Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family. On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor. Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us. Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.”
A powerful opening paragraph indeed from our Holy Father Pope Francis for the 48th World Communications Day which the Universal Church observes on Sunday 1st June, 2014! The theme this year is ‘Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter’.
The message of the Pope is not merely inspiring but also challenging “the walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another”. “A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give but also to receive”. It is very symbolic that a new Government in India takes charge in the very week that World Communications Sunday is being observed. The run-up to the elections, the campaigning, the advertisements, the media onslaught for several months were truly on a high. The paid media in the country became “cheer leaders” and “flag bearers” for a particular school of thought. The big corporates of the country justified this with terminology like ‘market savvy’, ‘branding’, ‘hard-sell’, etc. They did triumph in their aggressiveness and a fairly large portion of the credit has surely to go to the print, electronic and to social media!
It is in this context that Pope Francis minces no words when he says “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 who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road”.
Pope Francis poses challenges to the Christians: to be a bruised Church which goes out to the streets “where people live and where they can be reached both effectively and affectively”. “The digital highway” he says “is one of them, a street teeming with people, who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope.” He questions whether the Church is capable of communicating that it is the ‘home of all’. “We need a Church”, he emphasizes “capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts”. “We are challenged”, he continues, “to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.”
In the context of the increasing divide that is taking place all over the world, Pope Francis hopes and prays that “our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine that gladdens hearts”. He encourages all Christians “not to be mere passer-bys on the digital highways” but to ensure that our authentic encounters help in every possible way to create a more loving, just and truthful world. “The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represent a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God”.
As we in India observe ‘Communications Day’, let us truly commit ourselves to ensure that our communication too is at the service of an authentic culture of encounter.
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace and the Secretary for Social Communications of the Western Region Catholic Bishops Council)