Pope Francis’ Message for the 48th World Communications Day

pope francis using an ipad

In commemoration of the feast day for the patron saint of journalists, St. Francis de Sales, on January 24th, Pope Francis released his message for the 48th World Communications Day. Like Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis focuses on the digital media environment, asking “What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?”

Titling his message “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter” Francis discusses several drawbacks of communication in the age of digital media. He notes that the speed of our communication is often faster than our capacity for reflection which can hinder healthy self-expression. He points also to our propensity to barricade ourselves behind media and stories that confirm our own ideas instead of using our communication technology to truly encounter each other.

Rather than use these problems to condemn our means of technology, Pope Francis says that these failures should remind us that “communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.” In other words, our failures in digital communication show us that we cannot rely on our technology to communicate for us. All too often, we allow our communication technology to dictate the way we communicate with each other, instead of practicing good communication habits. We have a moral obligation to combat the biases inherent in our communication technologies in order to achieve authentic and humane encounters. In order to achieve this, Pope Francis emphasizes the need to take time for silence, listening, and patience. He encourages all to express tenderness online in order to build “a network not of wires but of people.”

Ultimately, Francis looks at communication in terms of neighborliness. When the scribe asked Jesus, ‘who is my neighbor?’ Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. On the digital highway, Francis says we must refrain from being passersby like the Levite and the priest, but must grow our digital connections into true encounters:

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 Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbor, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance.  In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response.  Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbor.

Everyday we experience communication that is aimed at promoting consumption and/or manipulating others and we may be complicit in it ourselves. We see it on Twitter, in the attention-grabbing, click-hungry links on Facebook, in our email and all around. If we as Christians can come to see how this kind of communication dehumanizes us and our neighbors, we can shed an important light on an often dark, confusing media environment. I’m looking forward to Pope Francis’ future writings on social communications and have hope that he’ll continue the excellent work that Pope Benedict left for us to meditate on.

Read Pope Francis’ entire message for the 48th World Communications Day, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Up&Up. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benjamingrobertson.com

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