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Fides et Internetum

Pope John Paul II takes on media, Old and New.

11:00 PM, Feb 23, 2005 • By HUGH HEWITT
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A REMARKABLE LETTER was issued from Pope John Paul last month. The "Apostolic Letter of the Holy Father John Paul II to Those Responsible for Communications," is titled The Rapid Development. Since my work is communication, I think it was addressed to me, and to every other reporter, editor, blogger, and broadcaster, whether Roman Catholic or not.

It is an amazing document, and I can only urge you to read it in its entirety. But here are a few highlights:

First, the Pope is concise in reviewing the Christian view of history:

"Salvation History recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communicating. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God in order to embrace divine revelation and to enter into loving dialogue with Him. Because of sin, this capacity for dialogue at both the personal and social level has been altered, and humanity has had to suffer, and will continue to suffer, the bitter experience of incomprehension and separation. God, however, did not abandon the human race, but sent his own Son (Cf. Mk 12:1-11). In the Word made flesh communication itself takes on its most profound saving meaning: thus, in the Holy Spirit, the human being is given the capacity to receive salvation, and to proclaim and give witness to it before the world."

John Paul then notes that history's greatest communicator, Jesus, used a variety of techniques:

"The Incarnate Word has left us an example of how to communicate with the Father and with humanity, whether in moments of silence and recollection, or in preaching in every place and in every way. He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in parables, dialogues within the intimacy of the home, speaks in the squares, along the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops. The personal encounter with him does not leave one indifferent, but stimulates imitation: 'What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops,' (Mt 10:27)."

The Pope then offers thanks for the emergence of mass communication and new technology:

"We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media which, if used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, can facilitate the communication of the Gospel and render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective."

Then comes the warning and the challenge:

"Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting. In this context, the communications media can be used 'to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence within men's hearts.' This poses a serious challenge for believers, especially for parents, families and all those responsible for the formation of children and young people. Those individuals in the Church community particularly gifted with talent to work in the media should be encouraged with pastoral prudence and wisdom, so that they may become professionals capable of dialoguing with the vast world of the mass media."

Why does the Pontiff encourage the faithful with talent to enter media?

"New technologies, in particular, create further opportunities for communication understood as a service to the pastoral government and organization of the different tasks of the Christian community. One clear example today is how the Internet not only provides resources for more information, but habituates persons to interactive communication. Many Christians are already creatively using this instrument, exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance. However, alongside the Internet, other new means of communication, as well as traditional ones, should be used. Daily and weekly newspapers, publications of all types, and Catholic television and radio still remain highly useful means within a complete panorama of Church communications."

Though John Paul addresses the "Internet," the Latin word for blogging has not yet been invented.

There is much, much more in the letter, but what is most striking is that this aging and ailing giant of the last century is looking far forward into the next. He closes with a message which, for anyone in the media business, is as old as the Gospel: