Monday, June 09, 2008

On Communication

Late last month, B16 received representatives of of Catholic university communication faculties who had gathered in Rome for a seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Suffice it to say, for anyone involved or interested in media work, the remarks (fulltext) are worth a good read.

The diverse forms of communication - dialogue, prayer, teaching, witness, proclamation - and their different instruments - the press, electronics, the visual arts, music, voice, gestural art and contact - are all manifestations of the fundamental nature of the human person. It is communication that reveals the person, that creates authentic and community relationships, and which permits human beings to mature in knowledge, wisdom and love. However, communication is not the simple product of a pure and fortuitous chance or of our human capacity. In the light of the biblical message, it reflects, rather, our participation in the creative, communicative and unifying Trinitarian Love which is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God has created us to be united to him and he has given us the gift and the duty of communication, because he wants us to obtain this union, not alone, but through our knowledge, our love and our service to him and to our brothers and sisters in a communicative and loving relationship.

It is self-evident that at the heart of any serious reflection on the nature and purpose of human communications there must be an engagement with questions of truth. A communicator can attempt to inform, to educate, to entertain, to convince, to comfort; but the final worth of any communication lies in its truthfulness. In one of the earliest reflections on the nature of communication, Plato highlighted the dangers of any type of communication that seeks to promote the aims and purposes of the communicator or those by whom he or she is employed without consideration for the truth of what is communicated. No less worth recalling is Cato the Elder's sober definition of the orator; vir bonus dicendi peritus -- a good or honest man skilled in communicating. The art of communication is by its nature linked to an ethical value, to the virtues that are the foundation of morality. In the light of that definition, I encourage you, as educators, to nourish and reward that passion for truth and goodness that is always strong in the young. Help them give themselves fully to the search for truth. Teach them as well, however, that their passion for truth, which can be well served by a certain methodological skepticism, particularly in matters affecting the public interest, must not be distorted to become a relativistic cynicism in which all claims to truth and beauty are routinely rejected or ignored.

I encourage you to give more attention to academic programmes in the area of the means of social communication, in particular to the ethical dimensions of communication between people, in a period in which the phenomenon of communication is occupying an ever greater place in all social contexts. It is important that this formation is never considered as a simple technical exercise, or a mere wish to give information. Primarily it should be more like an invitation to promote the truth in information and to help our contemporaries reflect on events in order to be educators of humankind today and to build a better world. It is likewise necessary to promote justice and solidarity, and to respect in whatever circumstance the value and dignity of every person, who also has a right not to be wounded in what concerns his private life.

It would be a tragedy for the future of humanity if the new instruments of communication, which permit the sharing of knowledge and information in a more rapid and effective manner, were not made accessible to those who are already economically and socially marginalized, or if it would contribute only to increasing the gap that separates those people from the new network that is developing at the service of human socialization, of information and of understanding. On the other hand, it would be equally grave if the tendency toward globalization in the world of communications were to weaken or eliminate the traditional customs and the local cultures, particularly those which are able to strengthen family and social values: love, solidarity, and respect for life.
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Earlier tonight, the Pope traveled to his cathedral -- Rome's Basilica of St John Lateran -- to open the annual convocation for the Rome diocese, this year dedicated to the theme of "Educating in Hope by Prayer, Action and Suffering."

Slated to run through Thursday, the gathering of the Eternal City's clergy and layfolk is expected to be the swan song of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the longtime papal vicar for the Urb charged with running the pontiff's diocese. Arguably among Italy's most influential public figures in recent decades, the 78 year-old cardinal's retirement is expected shortly after he marks his 25th anniversary as a bishop at month's end; as noted for months, the cardinal's successor is widely expected to be Cardinal Agostino Vallini, currently the church's "chief justice" as prefect of the Vatican's highest court, the Apostolic Signatura.

Combined with the new vacancy in Florence as a result of Cardinal Ennio Antonelli's Saturday appointment as president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the twin openings give Benedict XVI -- closely advised as always by his Secretary of State -- his biggest opportunity yet to reshape the Italian church's top rank in his own image.

Already, the Florentine tipping has largely turned toward the #2 of the nation's episcopal conference, 61 year-old Bishop Giuseppe Betori, the organizer of both the CEI's "Family Day" protest against civil partnership legislation last year and Rome's World Youth Day in 2000.

PHOTO: AP/Plinio Lepri