Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin addressed European affiliates of the Eternal Word Television Network (ewtn), at a Gala dinner at Villa Tuscolana in the Italian town of Frascati, on Wednesday, 19 October. He reflected on the theme, “The truth is what distinguishes information from communication”. The following is the English text of the Cardinal’s words.
Dear friends from EWTN,
am grateful to you for inviting me to this gathering of your European affiliates. I greet your CEO Michael Warsaw, who is also a consultor of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communication, and along with him, all those who work with you.
To communicate the salvific message of the Gospel, particularly through the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter, is a radical call, which is carried out today with new methods and new languages.
You have asked me to share a brief reflection on the theme “The truth is what distinguishes information from communication”.
Truth is a crucial theme for professionals in the field of communications such as yourselves. It is an issue which, in these past years, has become ever more prominent in public debate due to both the spread of the phenomenon of fake news as well as of a type of communication often based on a distorted, or false, representation of the other. This is a type of fanaticism grounded in the conviction that the truth that one believes is so absolute as to legitimize the destruction of another person, what communication experts term “character assassination”. This is done in order to impose one’s own view of truth upon everyone else. Instead, as Saint John Paul II observed in his message for the XXXV World Day for Peace, “even when the truth has been reached — and this can happen only in a limited and imperfect way — it can never be imposed”. Much less, therefore, can one’s own distorted representation of truth be imposed.
As Christians then, and this is certainly true for communications professionals, the perception of truth is not limited to a horizontal perspective, related merely to our social lives. There is a much more profound dimension. Truth, for us Christians, is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ who, as Saint Paul says, holds all things together (cf. Col 1:17). It is this encounter that ensures that communication does not remain simply a profession which conveys information, but that understands and sets this responsibility within a broader horizon than the albeit important dissemination of news. It is this encounter, woven by love for the other, that creates that unity which holds all things together.
Here I would like to recall what your founder, Mother Angelica, used to say: “It is our duty to speak the truth, and each person can either assume or not assume this duty. But the truth must above all be within us”. We should always keep this statement in mind and have the same awareness: the truth does not belong to us — we serve the truth. And we can serve it only in love and in unity. We are its custodians, not its owners. The truth is in us if we are humble and have the courage to know how to welcome it, even if at times it does not present itself as we might expect.
How then should this love for the truth, this love for the Person of Jesus Christ, this love for the Church, be translated into your mission as professionals in the field of communications?
First of all, as Pope Francis has indicated many times, we can witness to this through our style of communication. In a message to the members of the Catholic Press Association in June of 2020, the Pontiff invited American Catholic media outlets to work for communion, even more so today, “in an age marked by conflicts and polarization from which the Catholic community itself is not immune. We need media”, the Pope continued, “capable of building bridges, defending life and breaking down the walls, visible and invisible, that prevent sincere dialogue and truthful communication between individuals and communities”. If we truly believe that “we are members one of another”, as Saint Paul exhorts us (Eph 4:25), we must then “lend the ear of the heart” toward others, without prejudice or exclusion. To borrow Saint John Henry Newman’s motto, our communication should “speak heart to heart”.
A large international news network, like EWTN, that invokes the Gospel message, is therefore called to promote understanding between people, dialogue between communities and the search for places and opportunities that create contact between distant worlds, sometimes in conflict with each other.
What the Apostle Peter asked of the first believers in the Risen Christ two thousand years ago is particularly relevant today, especially for those who carry out a task such as yours: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope”. But, he adds, “do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:14-17). These words were certainly well-known to your founder. “You cannot go to Heaven hating someone”, Mother Angelica maintained. “Forgive now. Be compassionate now. Be patient and grateful now”. The means of communication, even more so if they purport to highlight their Catholic identity, must strive not to spread hate, but rather, to promote a non-hostile communication. The truth, and the values deriving from it, must be fearlessly upheld. This proclamation, however, should be formulated in a merciful style by those who patiently listen to the women and men of our time, who walk with them, even making themselves the interpreters of their suffering and their concerns.
“Communication” contains the root “communion”. Communion is in the DNA of communication, and is fundamentally its greatest aspiration. A communication that instead fans the flames of polarization, or builds walls instead of breaking them down, betrays its very nature. The proclamation of the truth cannot be separated from the exercise of charity. Saint John Paul II already advocated this in his Message for the XXV World Communications Day when, echoing Communio et Progressio published twenty years earlier, he observed that “if the media are to be effective means of fellowship and genuine human advancement, they must be channels and expressions of truth, justice and peace, good will and active charity, mutual help, love and communion”.
I would like to conclude with something particularly close to my heart. Catholic media, as you well know, has an important role in the task of the new evangelization. This is why it is good that they feel that they are an active part of the life of the Church, first of all by living in a spirit of communion with the Bishop of Rome. This is all the more urgent today in a time marked by overly-dramatic debates, also within the Church, which do not even spare the person and the Magisterium of the Pontiff. When Mother Angelica founded EWTN with tremendous courage and extraordinary creativity, she did so primarily to provide an instrument of good at the service of the Church and the Pope. This continues to be your greatest mission and reward — to be and to experience yourselves at the service of the Church and the Successor of Peter. As Saint John Paul II stated, recalling Jesus’ prayer for Peter (Lk 22:31), the mission entrusted to him by Jesus concerns the Church as it extends through the centuries and through human generations (cf. General Audience, 2 December 1992). The devil always seeks to sift us like wheat, but Jesus’ prayer for Peter and his successors is our anchor of salvation.
May this spirit of communion with the Pope be the distinctive sign of your work. May this be “felt” and “touched” in your television broadcasts, as well as in your articles and in your multimedia programmes. May every one of your viewers or readers recognize EWTN as a work of God at the service of the truth, ecclesial communion, and the good of humanity.