By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 6, 2011

World Communications Day

This morning I hosted a media breakfast. It is something I have been doing the last couple of years, and it is timed to coincide with World Communications Day, which this year fell on June 5th. This is an occasion where I can have a conversation with members of the local secular and Catholic media about issues of the day or about the challenges we each face in our respective milieux. Quite often the Church and media will interact, so I find these occasions very helpful for growth in mutual understanding and collaboration.

Our conversation today revolved very much around the message of Pope Benedict for this year’s World Communications Day. In it he speaks about the benefits and challenges of our new digital world, and calls the Church to be present within it in order to proclaim that life-transforming and hope-giving message which is the Gospel.

The Holy Father reflects upon how our new digital reality is changing the traditional way the media serves as a vehicle of communication. The producer-consumer model is being relativized as communication now occurs in the context of sharing. Just think of the abundant opportunities that now exist not only to receive news but to comment about it online or to send in an email to a television station with one’s own point of view. Social networking is all about sharing and connecting and serves a positive role when it facilitates the innate human desire for community.

Among the challenges, the Pope highlights what the new digital world is doing to our capacity for authenticity, for genuine personal relationships and for reflection. In our digital world it is very easy, the Holy Father observes, to present ourselves to others only partially or maybe even falsely. Relationships which are purely virtual can erode our capacity to enter into genuinely human relationships, which call us to be personally and really present to another. A communications world which places most importance upon what is popular, or that goes “viral” on the Internet, and in which news items attract only fleeting attention, can seriously challenge our ability and even desire to pause for deep reflection upon the issues of the day.

It was upon this latter point that we had most of our conversation this morning. I noted, for example, how the recent Speech from the Throne spoke about the need in our health care system to prepare to care for an aging population. This involves far more than statistics concerning costs or numbers of beds or wait times, all of which are important. Our changing demographic should also call us to deep reflection on how we best care for the whole person in their later years, especially as they approach death. How will we, as a society, surround our elderly with loving and supportive companionship as they deal with illness or the dying process? Will we so provide them with loving attention that they will know that they are never a burden to others, but always a gift? Are we taking measures to ensure sufficient availability of palliative care for the terminally ill? Burgeoning health care costs should never distract us from this sort of reflection.

We also touched upon the challenges the Church faces when it comes to conveying the Gospel through modern communication channels. Our task today is to convey in intelligible fashion with modern means a teaching that is founded upon two thousand years of deep philosophical and theological reflection undertaken in the context of prayer and the laboratory of life. This does not fit easily into a sound byte or a “tweet”. What to do? Not an easy question and we need to come up with the solution together. Here we are touching upon one of the challenges of the new evangelization, i.e., how to find new methods and expressions to communicate the timeless good news of Jesus Christ.

As the reporters questioned me on this, they raised the very good question of the Church being just one more voice in the digital world of a multiplicity of voices; therefore, might our necessary use of the new media actually prove to be a venue that mitigates against being heard? It occurs to me that the Church might well be another “voice”, but it is one that serves the one Word which counts above all others, and which speaks to the needs of the human heart like no other message can do. The Church is the voice for the Word of God, which pierces to the heart and addresses as it awakens the deepest longings that reside therein.

Our celebration yesterday of the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord reminds us that the message of the Gospel conveys to the human heart a hope that is sure and that our world cannot give. Let us pray together that, in our increasingly complex world of modern communications, space will be made in the hearts of today to both receive and appropriate this message.