Media Consultor Recommends Alternative Message
Says People Will Listen if Church Shows Its "Compelling Story"
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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Catholic communicators need to engage culture and humbly offer an alternative message -- a message of hope, says a consultor to the Vatican's communications council.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the CEO of Canada's Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network, and the author of ZENIT's "Words Made Flesh" column, affirmed this when he addressed Monday the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The priest offered a commentary on a passage from Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate," drawing out three points.
"The mass media are not morally 'neutral,'" Father Rosica affirmed. "They are often subordinated to 'economic interests intent on dominating the market' and to attempts to 'impose cultural models that serve ideological and political agendas.'
"The media have a huge role in shaping attitudes, a role that has been amplified by globalization. That requires careful reflection on their influence, especially when it comes to questions of ethics and the 'solidarity' dimension of development."
And, the priest continued, "Media have a civilizing effect when they are 'geared toward a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values.' That means they need to focus on promoting human dignity, be inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth.'"
No more thinking
Father Rosica reflected on the "veritable explosion and proliferation" of information and technology, saying, "The key descriptive word today for media is 'personalization.'"
He went on to mention one development that he said is not good: "Visual and electronic media need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking takes time, needs silence and the methodical skills of logic."
Thus, Father Rosica observed, "these new forms of media have undermined the intellectual discipline that we once had when our main tools of communication were books or print publications."
Furthermore, he continued: "On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. [...]
"One of the challenges for the Church is that the Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information-providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish. Web sites and blogs tend to concentrate on negative messages."
The result, Father Rosica contended, is that "Christians are known as the people who are against everything."
"If anything," he said, "we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture."
With this backdrop, the Vatican consultor reflected on challenges for Catholic communicators.
"The Church cannot ignore the great potential of online media if it wants to keep the truths of the faith in close touch with the emerging culture and the younger, growing generations," he affirmed. "At the same time, we cannot ignore 'old media,' because many less developed countries around the world still rely on traditional technologies."
Father Rosica cautioned against "being sidetracked."
He explained: "The Church's great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the profound message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology's superficial aspects. An almost exclusive use of text and e-mails means that as a society we're losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community. In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed."
Furthermore, Father Rosica affirmed, communicators must choose between "engaging" and "confronting" culture.
"There is certainly a time for confronting the culture with the message of the Gospel and the Church, but such 'confrontation' must be done with civility, conviction and charity," he said. "We need to show the culture that we're not against them, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change their circumstances. When that happens, people will listen."
Finally, the priest affirmed: "We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. Catholic communicators and broadcasters must have a passion for the Truth, always seeking in depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship."