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Information structures keep pace with the times

· Interview with Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli ·

A new Internet portal for the Holy See, a document on communications destined to update the Aetatis Novae , a revisitation of the collaboration between the Holy See’s different means of communication to enable the Vatican’s information structures to keep pace with the times: these are the principal innovations planned for 2011 in the world of Vatican information that Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, speaks of in this interview with the Italian daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano . The following is a translation of the interview given for the Message presentation at the Holy See Press Office on 24 January.

The Pope’s Message for the 45th World Day of Social Communications deals with a particularly timely topic: the world of the web seen from the viewpoint of values. How can the proclamation of the Gospel find a place in virtual reality?

The theme the Pope has chosen, “Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age”, goes straight to the heart of the Message which at a very high level takes a sort of pedagogical route around a reality which, although it is technologically clearly delineated, in many aspects has yet to be perfected.

The path that Benedict XVI points out explains first of all the fascination of this route. Indeed, it calls into question not so much technical or professional skills — although these are important — as rather the whole complex of resources that can help the human being, through the web, to build new relationships with himself and with others.

In this perspective one enters a cultural dimension that is largely present and underscored in the Message. The digital world is placed at the centre of great changes, starting with communications, which are ushering in new and completely unheard of lifestyles and cultural models.

And will this also bring changes to the way of managing the entire structure of Vatican communications in support of the Magisterium of the Church?

This is a question that first requires some explanation. Communications is a service but when it refers to the Church in all her structures and, even more directly, to the Pope, it seems impossible even merely to outline any estimate as regards results.

Nevertheless I would like to stress not only the particularity, but also what I would call the uniqueness of this service. It cannot — of course — be measured against the yardstick of results which is normal elsewhere. Even if it is viewed as a whole, the media structure of the Holy See, through each one of its bodies, cannot be compared to an office of a traditional kind, which serves specific interests and is often led to evaluate and, so to speak, verify its own effectiveness for what it communicates.

The first and sole aim of Vatican communications can only be a verification of full fidelity with regard to the Message and messages. Vatican communications are at the service of the Gospel and are intended to be a form of proclamation. It is, then, primarily from this mission that the complex and demanding operational tasks derive which confront it not only with the exercise of individual responsibilities but, I would say, also with the search for an overall form of consistence with the Message or with the flow of information to be communicated.

Every operator of Vatican communications is, in his or her own sphere and with due respect for the specificity of the means, is asked not only to transmit the message but also to live it and to bear witness to it in practice, since communications cannot be considered merely a sector but on the contrary a constitutive and culturally important element in the life of the Church.

Of course, the development of the new technologies imposes ever new arrangements and, in many cases, new approaches: wider collaboration, swifter coordination, broader synergies. I can say that these very present problems that arise are confronted at every level, starting with the deeper knowledge of doctrinal and theoretical matters that is required.

The practically finalized draft of a document which has, as it were, made history in Vatican communications will be presented during our upcoming plenary assembly. It will update Aetatis Novae, published 20 years ago in a context quite different from that of today. The Church’s communication has developed impelled by several fundamental documents; I am certain that in this case we shall find new ways to be able to offer to the Holy See a service that is ever better adapted to the needs of the times.

In what way is the dicastery you head, through the specific experience that it has developed in the methodologies of communication, able to make its own contribution to other dicasteries?

The peculiarity of Vatican communications is largely expressed in just such a manner. For they are not only addressed to the outside but also ad intra, in the sense that, already as a principle, they set themselves the goal of extending their service to all the other Vatican dicasteries. Essentially, the primary commitment of all is nothing other than evangelization, hence the ever new proclamation of the Word of God. In this sense we are all called to be communicators, we all converge towards one goal.

A dicastery such as ours is specifically placed as a pole of reference and it is therefore the task of the Pontifical Council to contribute to developing the most suitable methodologies, knowing well that these must also aim at common objectives. One does not communicate for oneself, because self-reference is one of the greatest risks of all communications. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications is determined to keep well away from this danger.

Does the responsibility for building the new Holy See portal also fit into this perspective?

The decision to entrust to our dicastery the birth of the Holy See’s new computer portal is an important one which I feel I can accept, together with the staff of the Pontifical Council, with a conscious sense of pleasure and responsibility. However we are still in a preparatory stage. Precisely because this is an important undertaking we do not intend to hurry. Moreover, if the technical stage of setting it up is complex, the editorial side is equally so. One thing is certain: the portal will be developed from close and continuous collaboration between all the Vatican media which will logically retain their own specific operational identity. And it will rely on this once it is functioning.

What are the important events this year?

The first will be at the end of February, the Plenary Meeting. Then there are the meetings with bishops on their ad limina visits and various international meetings. With this in view, we are organizing a seminar on communications in Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilian Bishops, as well as a meeting in Minsk and another in Africa. In the second part of the year we shall have a Latin American meeting in Chile, destined for operators of the Latin American Web Sites (riial).

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