Internet is 'gift from God,' Pope writes in message on social communications
January 23, 2014
The media world needs “to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm,” Pope Francis writes in his message for the World Day of Social Communications. In his message the Pope says that the media can bring people closer together, and promote solidarity among the world’s people. But in order to do so, he argues, the media—including social media—must show a genuine respect for the human person.
Pope Francis suggests that the parable of the Good Samaritan “is also a parable about communication.” The Samaritan, he explains, saw the robbers’ victim as a neighbor and formed a relationship with him. That sort of encounter, he said, should be a model for the media.
The opposite approach, in which media outlets view their audiences as anonymous objects to be exploited, denigrates human dignity, the Pope warned. 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, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road.”
The 48th World Day of Social Communications is observed by the universal Church on the Sunday before Pentecost: this year, on June 1. The annual observance was instituted by the Second Vatican Council. The Pope’s message for the occasion is traditionally released on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.
Opening his message, Pope Francis remarks that the world’s communities have grown closer together in many ways, but unfortunate divisions still exist. “On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor,” he says. “We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.”
Christians should not ignore the needs of their neighbors, the Pope says, and the media can help both to inform us about those needs and to develop “a sense of unity in the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.”
The internet in particularly offers “immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” the Pope writes, saying that the enormous potential of electronic communication is “something truly good, a gift from God.”
However the new possibilities created by digital communications come at a price, the Pope continued. “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment.” The internet, he added, “also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.”
Finally, he observed that the growing importance of electronic communication causes another potential source of division in society, risking the marginalization of “those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.”
Ideally, the Pope says, the internet should be “an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people.” He encourages Christians, especially in the field of communication, to form relationships, to learn about those with whom they are in contact, to listen as well as to speak.
In this way, the Pope writes, communicators can engage in evangelization. Quoting the message the Pope Benedict XVI wrote for last year’s World Day of Social Communications, he remarks: “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 advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence.’”
The Pope likens the digital world to “a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope.” He urges Christians to go out into the streets, to offer sympathy and support. He acknowledges that the process will not be painless or easy. But he says: “As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first.”
At a press conference introducing the papal document to reporters, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, observed that the message is “eminently Franciscan” in its emphasis on the need for the Church to use the means of the ordinary world as instruments of evangelization. The Pope, he said, promotes a vision of “accompanying, of going beyond merely listening: a Church who walks the path alongside us.”
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