On Saturday morning, 12 November, in the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis met with participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for Communication. He gave an impromptu speech (see page 9). In his prepared address, which was consigned to those present, he reminded members of the Dicastery that “it is the task of communication to promote closeness, to give a voice to those who are excluded, [and] to attract attention to what we normally reject and ignore”. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s prepared speech.
Dear brothers and dear sisters,
Good morning and welcome!
I thank Dr Ruffini for his kind words, and I greet all of you who are participating in the Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for Communication, on the theme “Synod and Communication: a journey to develop”.
The Synod is not a simple exercise in communication, nor is it an attempt to rethink the Church using the logic of the majorities and minorities who have to find an agreement. This type of vision is worldly, and follows the model of many social, cultural and political experiences. Instead, the essence of the synodal path resides in a basic truth that we must never lose sight of: its purpose is to listen to, understand and put into practice God’s will.
If, as a Church, we want to know God’s will to make the light of the Gospel even more current in this time of ours, then we must return to an awareness that it is never given to the individual, but always to the Church in her entirety. It is only in the living fabric of our ecclesial relations that we become capable of listening to and understanding the Lord who is speaking to us. Without “walking together”, we can become simply a religious institution, which has however lost the ability to let the light of its Master’s message shine, which has lost the ability to bring flavour to the different events of the world.
Jesus warns us against such a tendency. He repeats to us: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt 5:13-15). This is why the synodal dimension is a constitutive dimension of the Church, and the reflection that we have been engaged with in these years aims to bring out strongly what the Church has always implicitly believed.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women whom, at times, erroneously, we imagine as solitary heroes. For example, Abraham, the first to whom God addresses his word, is not a solitary wayfarer, but a man who takes seriously the voice of God, who invites him to leave his own land, and he does this together with his family (Gen 12:1-9). The story of Abraham is the story of Abraham’s connections.
Moses too, the liberator of Israel, would not have been able to fulfil his mission were it not for the help of his brother Aaron, his sister Miriam, his father-in-law Jethro, and a host of other men and women who helped him to listen to the Word of the Lord and put it into practice for the good of everyone. He is a wounded man in his personal life, and has no oratorical skills; indeed, he stammers. We might even say that he is a man who has difficulty in communicating, but those around him compensate for his own inability (cf. Ex 4:10, 12-16).
Mary of Nazareth would not have been able to sing her Magnificat without the presence and friendship of her cousin Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1:46-55), and would not have been able to defend her child Jesus against the hatred of those who wanted to kill him had Joseph not been by her side (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23).
Jesus himself is in need of bonds with others, and when he has to face the definitive battle of his mission in Jerusalem, the night of his arrest he takes his friends Peter, James and John with him to the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mt 26:36-46).
The contribution of communication is precisely that of making possible this communal dimension, this relational capacity, this vocation to connections. And, therefore, we understand that it is the task of communication to promote closeness, to give a voice to those who are excluded, to attract attention to what we normally reject and ignore. Communication is, so to speak, the craft of connections, within which the voice of God resonates and makes itself heard.
I would like to indicate three things to you as possible avenues for future reflection in this area.
The first task of communication should be that of making people less lonely. If it does not diminish the sensation of loneliness to which so many men and women feel condemned, then that communication is merely entertainment; it is not the craft of making bonds as we said earlier.
In order to put such a mission into practice, one must clearly understand that a person feels less lonely only when he or she realises that the questions, the hopes, and the hardships he or she carries within find expression outside. Only a Church that is immersed in reality truly knows what lies in the heart of the contemporary person. Therefore, all true communication is made up first and foremost of genuine listening, it is made of encounters, faces, stories. If we do not know how to be in reality, we will limit ourselves to merely issuing from above directions that no one will heed. Communication should be a great aid to the Church, to dwell genuinely in reality, promoting listening and intercepting the great questions of the men and women of today.
Connected to this first challenge, I would like to add another: giving a voice to the voiceless. Very often we witness communications systems that marginalise and censor what is uncomfortable and what we do not want to see. The Church, thanks to the Holy Spirit, is well aware that it is her task to stay with the least, and her natural habitat is that of the existential peripheries.
But the existential peripheries are not only those that find themselves on the margins of society for economic reasons, but also those who are sated with bread but deprived of meaning; they are also those who live in situations of marginalization due to certain choices, or family failures, or personal events that have indelibly marked their history. Jesus was never afraid of the leper, the poor, the outsider, even though these people were marked by moral stigma. Jesus never ignored the irregulars of any kind. I wonder if as a Church we too know how to give a voice to these brothers and sisters, if we know how to listen to them, if we know how to discern God’s will together with them, and in this way address to them a Word that saves.
Finally, the third challenge of communication that I would like to leave you is that of educating ourselves in the toil of communicating. Not infrequently, even in the Gospel, we find misunderstandings, slowness in understanding Jesus’ words, and misinterpretations that at times become veritable tragedies, as happens to Judas Iscariot, who confuses Christ’s mission with political messianism.
Therefore, we must also accept this dimension of “toil” in communication. Very often those who look at the Church from outside remain perplexed by the various tensions within. But those who know how the Holy Spirit acts are well aware that he loves to make communion among diversity, and to create harmony from confusion. Communion is never uniformity, but the capacity to keep very different realities together. I think we should be capable of communicating even this hardship without pretending to resolve or conceal it. Dissent is not necessarily an attitude of rupture, but it can be one of the ingredients of communion. Communication must also make diversity of views possible, while always seeking to preserve unity and truth, and fighting slander, verbal violence, personalism and fundamentalism that, under the guise of being faithful to the truth, only spread division and discord. If it succumbs to these degenerations, communication, instead of doing much good, ends up doing much harm.
Dear brothers and dear sisters, the work of this Dicastery is not simply technical. Your vocation, as we have seen, touches the very way of being Church. Thank you for what you do. I encourage you to go forward in a decisive and prophetic way. To serve the Church means being trustworthy and also courageous in venturing on new paths. In this sense, always be trustworthy and courageous. I bless you all from my heart. And please, do not forget to pray for me.