What’s Most Important in Our Communication? 2019 Theme for World Communication Day

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

The theme for the 2019 World Communications Day chosen by Pope Francis is: We are members one of another” (Eph 4:25). From network community to human communities. Here is the full text of the brief statement from the Vatican:

 

Theme of World Communications Day 2019, 29.09.2018

 

This is the theme chosen by the Holy Father Francis for the 53rd World Communications Day, to be held in 2019:

«We are members one of another» (Eph 4,25). From network community to human communities.

The theme underlines the importance of giving back to communication a broad perspective, based on the person, and emphasizes the value of interaction always understood as dialogue and as an opportunity to meet with others.

This calls for a reflection on the current state and nature of relationships on the Internet, starting from the idea of community as a network between people in their wholeness. Some of the prevailing trends of the so-called social networks ask us a fundamental question: to what extent can we speak of a real community in the face of the logic that characterizes some communities on social media? The metaphor of the web as a community of solidarity implies the construction of an “us”, based on listening to the other, on dialogue and consequently on the responsible use of language.

In his first Message for World Communications Day in 2014, the Holy Father called for the Internet to be “an environment rich in humanity, a network not of wires but of people”.

The choice of the theme for the 2019 Message confirms Pope Francis’ attention to the new communications environment and for social networks, especially, where he is present in the first person with his @Pontifex account on Twitter and @Franciscus on Instagram.

Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, commented on the theme in a brief interview with Vatican News. World Communications Day is usually celebrated the Sunday before Pentecost (which will be June 2, 2019), and the actual Message for the day will be released on January 24, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers.

 

I particularly like the emphasis that the message (along with Ruffini’s comments) gives to the essential elements of a genuine human encounter, whether in person or online: dialogue and openness. In his comments, Ruffini pointed out that “the risk that comes with the times in which we live is that of building tribes rather than communities.” This risk has been mentioned before in other communications documents from the Church. In these times of growing polarization, to use media as a way to deepen our understanding rather than as a way to reinforce our own views is vitally important, and something that everyone can do to build up a culture of true dialogue and community.

 

In this 2016 message to the Pontifical Academies, the Pope talks about how artists, in their quest for beauty, can help to transform every day life: “To create works of art that bring us, in the language of beauty, a sign, a spark of hope and trust where people seem to give in to indifference and ugliness.” To speak the truth in love is the first priority of the communicator, but to speak the truth in a way that offers “a spark of hope” seems critical in our roles as communicators. We live in a time of fake journalism, of sensationalist reporting, of the pain and truth of victims of devastating crimes being manipulated for others’ agendas, of a lack of transparency on the part of institutions and persons in positions of great responsibility, of shattering accusations brought before the worldstage (not to the involved parties/communities) without a helpful process beforehand or afterward to resolve them. Any thoughtful person knows how much their words can affect another. Media and social networks multiply the power of just one word in ways unimaginable in the past. Trying to “keep up” technologically doesn’t meant that we have “kept up” ethically. How do we balance the news we publish/share/promote? How can we form ourselves–first of all–and our children–to carry this responsibility in a way that truly builds up the human family?

The Church offers us the principles in an easy-to-understand way in its World Communications Day Messages, but it is up to each of us as communicators to forge our communication in both content and style so that we always hold high the Truth–that Light of Truth that doesn’t just illuminate the darkness of evil, but offers the human family a way forward: a way of hope, respect, and justice.

How To Become a Pop Culture Mystic: Interview with Author Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP

Yesterday I had the privilege of having a conversation with Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, about her new book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics. I hope you enjoy it!

A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics is available at our online Pauline store, from the Pauline Book & Media Center nearest you, or on amazon.com.

Be a Pop Culture Mystic!

This week, I have the opportunity to interview Daughter of Saint Paul Sister Nancy Usselmann, author of the new book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural MysticsSister Nancy is director for the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, but she is here in Boston for a few weeks to prepare for our annual Christmas concerts, so I am taking advantage of her presence!

In her book, Sr. Nancy encourages us to engage with pop culture by becoming mystics: that is, to use our media experiences to recognize the beauty of God and the needs of humanity expressed by the artists of today’s culture. Much of A Sacred Look offers us a theological foundation for doing just that, and the rest of the book is a wonderful, insightful analysis of some of the most prevalent trends and popular phenomena in pop culture, ranging from TV shows such as Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why, to rap music, sci-fi films, and Oscar-winning films such as The Revenant. You can read her initial interview about becoming cultural mystics here.

My plan is to post the interview up here next week. If you would like us to discuss a particular aspect of pop culture (perhaps a favorite or controversial film, song, or TV show), please feel free to send me a message here, on Facebook or Twitter, or in the  comments below, before Thursday noon (August 22nd), and I’ll see if we can get to it.

If you are in the Boston area, you may want to join Sister Nancy for her author talk/book signing on this Saturday, August 25:

 

Forever My Girl – More Than a Romantic Comedy

Forever My Girl, released this week on DVD, is a film adaptation of the best-selling novel. Forever My Girl is a sweet, second-chance romance that, despite some genre-typical set-ups and pay-offs, and a too-neat ending, has an endearing warmth and depth.

For my commentary on the Salt + Light Radio Hour (and to find out if Deacon Pedro watches romantic comedies-starting April 28), listen in here.

The storyline starts with an all-too-obvious heartbreak that totally fits the genre: on the day of their wedding, up-and-coming local Southern singer Liam Page abandons his bride Josie to pursue a career in country music. Eight years later, Liam is a famous country music star who, when he hears about the death of his friend, returns to his long-neglected past in his hometown in Louisiana for the funeral. Although he hovers around the edges of the service and burial, not really reconnecting, he ends up extending his visit, perhaps seeking to recover what he lost.

The story continues with obvious ploys which, while predictable for the genre, seem to work for this film:

  • On Liam’s return, Josie knocks him over with a punch
  • Josie is a single mom with a daughter, Billy
  • At first, Billy is a very cute, lovable brat, who keeps Liam at a distance, but she gradually lets down her walls 
  • Josie’s brother Jake taunts Liam with his abandonment and accuses him of being unfit for Josie and Billy
  • Liam’s father provides an explanation of why Liam ran away

Anyone who has watched a few rom-coms has seen all of these before—many of them together in similar films. But a couple earnest, understated choices of the filmmakers make all the difference:

  • When Liam decides to stay in his hometown, he doesn’t try to explain or defend himself to Josie, to Josie’s brother Jake, or to his father (who is also a pastor and is realistically struggling to deal with his disappointment in his son).
  • The film uses one telling detail to show not only that Liam has been unable to forget Josie, but that he is desperate for a connection with her
  • Despite Liam’s inner anguish, he has enough self-respect, courage, and respect for the people he left behind to seek reconciliation by simply being present, with no expectations.
  • Josie’s feisty response to Liam’s reappearance—he never contacted her after abandoning her at the church—rings true and reveals a maturity in her character. It takes time before she decides to see him or spend time with him.
  • While Liam’s father initially struggles with Liam’s return, he both encourages Liam and lets Liam find his own way.
  • Another nice touch in the film is how Liam’s isolation and brokenness is portrayed visually: he is constantly on the outside of the community/family, looking in.
  • Alex Roe’s understated performance as Liam really gives depth to this film. Rather than coming back with a “Here I am!” attitude, he simply accepts the criticism, blame, and doubts he receives. He doesn’t expect anything from the people he hurt and left behind. But he constantly tries to show—with his actions—what his intentions and desires are. His admirable quiet restraint, even humility, in several situations that are emotionally difficult for everyone is quite striking.

 

A Window to the Soul: into the Virtues of Humility, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Starting Over, Christian Community, Family

Forever My Girl is not an overtly Christian movie (and there are definitely non-Christian ideas and behavior in the film about living together, language, modesty, etc.). Rather, it is a mainstream genre film that contrasts a fame-driven, self-centered lifestyle with an other-centered, Christian lifestyle. Forever My Girl offers a refreshing view of a Christian community that is neither perfect nor hypocritical: real disciples of Christ who struggle to live the healing love of forgiveness Jesus calls us to. In today’s revenge-hungry, self-entitled culture, forgiveness can be unimaginable. But this film—without preaching—shows the power and beauty of these most important Christian virtues: forgiveness and true reconciliation.

For those who love romantic comedies, Forever My Girl is not to be missed. Forever My Girl is also a good choice for a teen or YA “Meeting Jesus at the Movies Night.” The film is rated PG, appropriate for families with older tweens and up (depending on the maturity of the child).

In-Depth Look at Fake News and Journalism for Peace-Pope Francis’ World Communications Day Message

This year’s Message for World Communications Day is so timely that I wanted to highlight/summarize a couple important points from the Message—especially for people who haven’t read it. Three paragraphs impressed me so much that I made a line-by-line meditation on it—and I will share my notes from that with you below.

The theme for 2018 is “The truth will set you free”: Fake news and journalism for peace. In this powerful meditation for all of us living in the digital age (especially for all Christian communicators–which is all of us), Pope Francis highlights the importance of truth: in our lives, in our relationships, in our communication, in our service. The Message first gives a description of fake news, what makes fake news thrive, and how fake news exploits the human person, leading to:

  • the spread of disinformation
  • the spread of hate and arrogance,
  • demonizing others
  • fomenting conflict.

In describing how we can respond to fake news, Pope Francis approaches it from what we Pauline Sisters call a “Media Mindful” perspective:

“Preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place.”

Pope Francis goes on to recount how the “Father of Lies” perpetrated humanity’s first instance of fake news in Genesis 3:

  • pretense of friendship
  • speaking partial truths that distorts the truth and falsifies reality (incomplete, out of context)
  • speaking with the appearance of truth only

Pope Francis concludes, “Trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.”

How fake news so easily goes viral brings to my mind a story about St. Philip Neri, who is popularly remembered for his humor and humility, but who was renowned during his lifetime as a wise confessor. The story goes that to a woman who confessed the sin of gossip, St. Philip gave her the penance of walking through the town plucking the feathers of a chicken, and then to return to him. When she returned, the saint told her to now go back and gather up all the feathers. Dismayed, she protested that it was impossible. St. Philip pointed out that it is impossible to take back the harm that our gossip does.

Fake news can take lying and gossiping to a global level. Fake news may be driven by greed and a thirst for power, simple negligence, but it ultimately victimizes individuals by robbing us of our interior freedom. One solution is for everyone to practice a deeper awareness when it comes to our communication and especially our media usage. This is what we try to encourage in schools, parishes, and families, by sharing the practice of Media Mindfulness, which Pope Francis refers to (without using the label):

“Education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

My favorite two paragraphs of the message I will quote in full, with a few of my personal reflections.

(You can download the four-page line by line reflection here.) 

Pope Francis wraps up with an invitation:

– to all people to listen and engage in sincere dialogue

– to journalists to take up the weighty responsibility of a commitment to truth: to be protectors of the news.

“Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.”

Pope Francis concludes with a powerful prayer to Christ, our Truth, that I will be praying daily through this year dedicated to Truth:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Amen.

Digital Catholics

Here are a few catch-up notes that are long overdue:

Best new site for Media Literacy from a Catholic perspective! Last week I posted here about the new Pauline Center for Media Literacy weekly movie reviews, which our sisters write from a Catholic perspective. But the site has more than just movie reviews, and we are adding new content all the time. Visit the new site and see how the faith we live by and the culture we live in intersect! www.bemediamindful.org

Media and Your Kids For families with kids, the CNN news site published a helpful article about young children using media: “Kids Under 9 Spending More Than 2 Hours a Day on Screens.” The article is based on a study by Common Sense Media–another favorite media literacy site that is helpful when looking at media for children. Along with this article, CNN published “New Screen Time Rules for Kids by Doctors.” The tips for “healthy digital media use” seem especially helpful, but in brief, here is what doctors recommend:

 

Doctors’ Guidelines for Screen Time for Kids

Screen time, or time spent using digital media for entertainment, should be limited.

AGE RECOMMENDED MOTIVATION
18 months and younger No exposure. Screen time can:
cause disconnect between parents and children (babies deprived of parents’ attention may develop behavioral issues)Prevent healthy brain development for infants because it limits face-to-face contactOverstimulate, which can cause distress and sleep issues
2-5 years 1 hour per day

Only high quality

No advertisements

Children at this age can’t differentiate between real-world and screen-world. In addition to high-quality programs, face-to-face interactivity onscreen (such as Skype or Facetime) is a good choice.
6 & older Limit & Monitor Screen time should never replace healthy activities (sleep, social interaction, physical activity)

Parents need to help children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they teach children how to behave off-line

Designate media-free times together (such as meals)

Designate media-free zones at home (such as bedrooms)

Set up a media plan for the family

Based on article: “New Screen Time Rules for Kids by Doctors” by Hailey Middlebrook, CNN

 

The World Congress for Child Dignity in the Digital World has made many of the speeches of the congress available here on the Congress website. The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome hosted the congress from October 3-6, 2017 .

Pope Francis offers his insights into his style as a communicator in today’s world: Pope Francis on Why He Gives Interviews. For Pope Francis, a “real meeting,” means “real conversation.” His best tip? He prays to the Holy Spirit ahead of time to inspire him with what to say.

“The truth will set you free” (John 8:32): Fake news and Journalism for Peace is the theme for the next World Communications Day on May 13, 2018. The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication posted the theme on September 29th (the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel). The explanation follows:

The theme that the Holy Father Francis has chosen for the 52nd World Day of Social Communications 2018 relates to so-called “fake news”, namely baseless information that contributes to generating and nurturing a strong polarisation of opinions. It involves an often misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behaviour. In a context in which the key companies of the social web and the world of institutions and politics have started to confront this phenomenon, the Church too wishes to offer a contribution, proposing a reflection on the causes, the logic and the consequences of disinformation in the media, and helping to promote professional journalism, which always seeks the truth, and therefore a journalism of peace that promotes understanding between people. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2017/09/29/170929a.html

 

Online Evening Visit with Jesus At the conclusion of our online Facebook Live Novena to Our Lady of Fatima, Sister Kathryn and I decided that we would like to try to offer a simple Evening Visit with Jesus every night at 8 PM at the Facebook page: Ask a Catholic Nun. We are still getting it off the ground, but it’s a wonderful way to share prayer intentions and feel part of a community that prayers together every evening. I hope you can find the time to join us.

Meet the selfie-snapping Sisters of Snapchat is a fun article interviewing Catholic sisters using social media! Several #MediaNuns are included.

How To Use Social Media To Grow in Holiness

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I have been saving up this reader’s question because I wanted to give it a well-developed answer. I’ve not had the time to develop the answer in a way that I’d hoped, but rather than wait any longer, I thought I would begin an answer and continue unpacking the topic as time goes on.

“Do you have any tips / tools you have found helpful in doing your work online but not getting sucked into the trap of getting into it too much?  There can be a temptation to over-use social media, to go along with the rest of society which seems to be constantly ‘plugged in.’ As a religious, striving for holiness, I do not think this is appropriate.” 

This is a great question for anyone, not just for religious sisters, brothers, and priests. The laity are called to holiness just as clergy and religious are; the laity, too, are called to an interior life that allows focus on one’s relationship with God. While there is nothing inherently wrong in being plugged in, problems arise when being plugged in pulls us away from the rest of our life: when we are spending so much time online that our lifestyle, serenity, and/or in-person relationships start to suffer. Research is beginning to emerge that reveals an addictive quality in using social media, so it is really important to watch our habits—just as it is important to reflect on all our media habits. Personally, I know that frequent social media use can result in feeling fragmented or scattered. Reflecting on a couple of principals may help us in discerning how we can best use social media, according to our vocation to holiness.

1) If we want to engage with people online, we need to truly engage with people by using social media well, especially if it is for the sake of the Gospel! Using Twitter or Snapchat or Vine halfheartedly, without taking the time to interact with others online, or bothering to really learn about how to use it, is not effective and can even be a less-than-positive witness to the Gospel. When we learn how to use a particular platform well, we don’t need to waste time on it trying to take in everything.

2) No one can engage with all social media well all the time, because every platform takes time and energy, and we have limited amounts of both that we can dedicate to social media. Even if we are responsible at work for a range of social media, we will have to choose which to give priority to, according to our purpose, who we want to reach, and how we want to reach them. Setting boundaries in using the internet becomes essential because the internet has so few boundaries.

3) Create a plan for your use of social media with the following 6 questions.

  • How is God is inviting you to use social media?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Which social media platform(s) are best suited to: your personal communication style, your message, and your audience?
  • How much time can I afford to give to social media: daily? weekly? monthly?
  • When will you give myself a break from social media? (Breaks may be times—such as a day of the week or between 8 PM and 9 AM; or places—such as the dining room table and the bedroom.)

4) Use your social media plan to achieve your goals and to set healthy boundaries for yourself. While the nature of social media often means that there is cross-over between work and personal use, if you use social media for both you may wish to have two social media plans. Either way, setting limits (time, place, platform) and scheduling can be both helpful and essential. Shape your social media use to fulfill your goals.

Examples:

If an author is trying to network with like-minded authors and potential readers, many social media experts recommend Twitter. If we choose Twitter, we need to become active enough on it so we can learn how to reach our audience with our message effectively. No one needs to be on Twitter all day long, but a consistent presence is important. We might want to use a tool to schedule tweets through the day. We may want to set aside three fifteen-minute segments each day to tweet, read your feed, and retweet. We may decide to be on Twitter Monday-Friday, and take off the weekends or Sunday.

If we want to communicate with young people and one of our communication strengths is visual, we may wish to make Instagram or Vine our primary platform, and post once a week, and view twice a week.

If we use social media to support an interest group (such as a bird-watching hobby), we may simply choose the platform that already has an active and inviting group with that interest. Our plan may be to check in with them weekly for an hour. Or we may choose to check in before and after a related event (such as each bird-watching expedition).

5) Reexamine your use of social media regularly, since social media trends and platforms are constantly changing. We may need to do so as often as every six months or maybe every couple of years. We can apply the principles of discernment to help us to grow in balancing our life better by asking several questions:

  • What are the positive effects for my using social media?
  • What are the negative effects of my using social media?
  • How has my use of social media affected the overall balance of my life?
  • What do I have too much of?
  • What do I have too little of?
  • Do I still make the kind of time I need for:
    * My relationship with myself: silence, solitude, and time to think
    * My relationship with my body: relaxing, exercise, sleep, spending time in nature, etc.
    * My relationship with God: daily prayer, meditation and/or time to reflect, confession, Mass, and other forms of communal prayer
    * My relationships with my loved ones: quality time with family and friends
    * My life: being a truly engaged presence in daily life, without constant distractions or feeling scattered
    * My community: offering a contribution to the community (parish, neighborhood, family, etc.)
    * My work: being able to focus and effectively accomplish my responsibilities
  • How much use of the internet and social media feels right for me? Right now, is my use of media right “out of balance”? What do I need to put my life back into balance?

For further reflection, read Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications:

“I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.” – Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications