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50 Years of Decree on Communication Church's New Beginning.

India, Dec. 15 -- The Church is remembering the 50th Anniversary of Inter Mirifica, the decree on social communications of the Second Vatican Council and the first document of the Church on communications ever to be issued by any Ecumenical Council. As I am reflecting on its content I am reminded of two words in Italian language that denotes the verb remember: memoria and riccordare. Memoria is 'a mental activity of remembering;' while riccordare means 'to give heart again' or 'to take it your heart again' (re -- again; cuore -- heart; dare -- to give).

Though a small document, Inter Mirifica has laid solid foundations to the communications in the Church. It is upon this foundation, over the last fifty years, the Church has enormously shaped its communication perspective.

This article is an attempt to present the three dominant paradigms (reflection, relation and realization) in the Catholic perspectives about communication as reflected in the teachings of three popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. Traversing through the core aspects of their teaching briefly in this article, we would be able to commemorate and celebrate Inter Mirifica by taking it into our hearts as relevant communicative paradigms. This will help us to take a U-Turn in our approach to communication ministry in India today.

Reflection Paradigm - Benedict XVI

The introduction of IM notes that "the wonderful inventions of modern technology" have uncovered "new avenues of communicating". The council fathers recognized that such platforms could be of great benefit, if properly employed, "since they greatly contribute to men's entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God". Benedict XVI has taken this to his heart and the heart of the entire Catholic Church and the world through his vibrant reflections: reflective dimension of communications, a new avenue of communicating.

We can see that much of Benedict's writings and reflections were geared towards these three dimensions of communicating i.e., God's intra-inter communications, in communion: typical example for such an effective communicational and theological threshold. In line with this, Pope Benedict reflects that communication can be a dynamic encounter when "seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave" (Deus Caritas Est 18).

Franz-Josef Eilers points out that 'actually at the beginning of Council preparations after Pope John XXIII's announcement in June 1959 such a document was not foreseen'. The context in which the necessity of such a decree arose in the progress of precautions, principally when the Council fathers reflected on the "modern means of the apostolate". Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that the decree (and in many circles and in the Church, even today) insists on the instrumental use of means of communications. Pope Paul VI affirmed in his apostolic exhortation, that we "would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means (Evangelio Nuntiandi, n. 45)". However, Benedict XVI categorically affirms about the use of these means: "Those who are active in the production and dissemination of new-media content [should] strive to respect the dignity and worth of the human person," he said (WCM 2009).

There are some who argue that 'Inter Mirifca did not have the rich theological perspectives and worldview of the Church in the modern world'. It's not true. Inter Mirifica has its own specific theological foundation, perspective and clear worldview as each document and decree of the Council does. Moreover, they should learn from Pope Benedict how to communicate IM's theology at the outset of a reflection paradigm. In his 44th World Communications Day message (The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word) to priests, Pope Benedict XVI invited them to become digital citizens and engage with the information society, saying, "Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.... Who better than a priest, as a man of God, can develop and put into practice, by his competence in current digital technology, a pastoral outreach capable of making God concretely present in today's world and presenting the religious wisdom of the past as a treasure which can inspire our efforts to live in the present with dignity while building a better future?".

Yes, it's Benedict's invitation to make a U-turn on the foundation of Inter Mirifica.

Benedict XVI has become a reflective paradigm in the Church with his dynamic, solid theological reflective and communicative dimensions: through the promulgated encyclical letters on love (2005), hope (2007), and "charity in truth" (2009), as well as apostolic documents, through 68 books and various speeches and interviews. Benedict's theology underwent developments over the years, many of which were characterized by his leadership position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is entrusted with preserving the Catholic faith in its entirety. His theology originated in the view that God speaks to us through the Church today and not just through the Bible. The Bible is not a natural science textbook, but rather it is the essential testimonial of God's revelation. One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. Thus Scripture would not wish to inform us about how the different species of plant life gradually appeared or how the sun and the moon and the stars were established. Its purpose ultimately would be to say one thing: God created the world.

Relation Paradigm - John Paul II

Although not all of the Council Fathers were so interested in social communications, nor did they fully understand it. Fascinatingly one of the written interventions during the Council by then Auxiliary Bishop Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, who proposed: to consider the importance of culture for communication. Therefore, evidently there is a paradigm shift from the instrumental use to a cultural level of communication. Communication began to be perceived as something integral to life and culture of mankind. Later on John Paul affirmed: 'In fact, the Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the "new culture" that these powerful means of communication create and amplify' (Rapid Development n. 2).

Relational paradigm of faith, spirituality and life-praxis perfectly blends in John Paul's teachings. He says, 'the current phenomenon of communications impels the Church towards a sort of pastoral and cultural revision, so as to deal adequately with the times in which we live. Pastors, above all, must assume this responsibility. Everything possible must be done so that the Gospel might permeate society, stimulating people to listen to and embrace its message' (Pastores Gregis, 30).

Furthermore, John Paul Invites those working in communication arena, and the entire world: Do not be afraid to take to your heart RELATIONAL paradigm of Communication: a), Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank "among the marvelous things" - inter mirifica - which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom; b), Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, "I have conquered the world!" (Jn 16:33); c), Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy! The Divine Master has said, "I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Mt 28:20) (Rapid Development n. 14).

John Paul II's invitation is: Do not be afraid, U-turn on the Inter Mirifica's Relation paradigm foundation.

John Paul II has evolved as a relation paradigm in the Church with his charismatic and communicative dimensions: He was a man of extraordinary charisma with a world-stage presence. The Pilgrim Pope made 104 foreign trips, more than all previous popes combined. In total he logged more than 1,167,000 km (725,000 mi). He consistently attracted large crowds on his travels, some among the largest ever assembled. The core of his theology was the dignity of the person, from conception to grave. John Paul II was one of the world's most consistent advocates of human rights. A vocal advocate for human rights, John Paul often spoke out about suffering in the world. He held strong positions on many topics, including his opposition to capital punishment. A charismatic figure, John Paul used his influence to bring about political change and is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland. He was also open to what Catholicism could learn from other Christian traditions.

Realization Paradigm - Pope Francis

The positive development of the media at the service of the common good is a responsibility of each and every one. (Cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, num. 2494). Pope Francis communicates this responsibility (communicative social vision of Pope Francis): the responsibility of communicating Christ through life-giving martyria-witnessing. Pope Francis may not utter the word communication literally, but he is. Furthermore, Pope Francis is inviting all for a realization level of communication: not just a verbal proclamation of the Gospel but to be the Gospel.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Vatican Television last month, Pope Francis said Inter Mirifica had produced a number of "marvelous gifts" to the Church. When we look intelligently to deeply understand how Pope Francis is communicating, we realize that he communicates with his heart and life: a realization paradigm of communicating unfolding day after day. "There is a difference between these forms, that are functional means of communication, and communication itself, which is something else entirely," he said, adding that in the last few decades "the various means of communication have evolved significantly, but the Church's concern remains the same, though it assumes new ways of expression."

Referring to the most significant change, the Holy Father notes that the media are now all-encompassing and a major part of everyday life in a way that wasn't the case 50 years ago. "The world of communications, more and more, has become an 'environment' for many, one in which people communicate with one another, expanding their possibilities for knowledge and relationship," he said. "I wish to underline these positive aspects, notwithstanding the limits and the harmful factors that also exist and which we are all aware of".

Pope Francis is inviting U-turn to take to your heart a realization paradigm of communication: so as to become the light of faith (Lumen Fidei) and to communicate the joy of the gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) that fills the hearts and lives of all through a dynamic communicative encounter with Jesus.

As Pope, Francis has evolved as a realization paradigm: his manner is less formal than that of his predecessors -- a style that news coverage has referred to as "no frills," observing that it is "his common touch and accessibility that is proving the greatest inspiration". On the night of his election, he took the bus back to his hotel with the cardinals, rather than be driven in the papal car. After being elected and choosing his name, his first act was bestowing the Urbi et Orbi blessing to thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. Before blessing the pilgrims, he asked those in St. Peter's Square to pray for his predecessor, pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and for himself. At his first media audience, the Friday after his election, the Pope said of Saint Francis of Assisi: "The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man," and he added "How I would like a poor Church, and for the poor". Instead of accepting his cardinals' congratulations while seated on the Papal throne Francis received them standing, reportedly an immediate sign of a changing approach to formalities at the Vatican. During his first appearance as pontiff on the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, he wore a white cassock, not the red, ermine-trimmed mozzetta used by the previous Popes. He also wore the same iron pectoral cross that he had worn as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, rather than the gold one worn by his predecessors.

There are two ways eventually to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Inter Mirifica: a), as mental activity and b), as a heartfelt - revitalizing communicating culture.

It is high time for us to take Inter Mirifica into our hearts again as it is celebrating its 50th anniversary than talking about it endlessly. Let us not limit our celebration of it to mere mental activities of seminars and boring lectures, rather consider it a starting point to revitalize our communication ministry today. All the children of the Church should join therefore, without delay and with the greatest effort in a common work (IM n. 13) to take Inter Mirifica to our hearts - as a threshold to revitalize our lives through communication ministry here and now. On the foundation laid by Inter Mirifica, let us evolve from reflection paradigm to a relation paradigm in order to fully communicate as realization Paradigm. Robert Scheer writes, 'I forget, for the moment, that he is Pope Francis communicating, it is difficult to deny the inherent wisdom and clarity of the pontiff's critique of the modern capitalist economy. No one else has put it as powerfully and succinctly, welcome back Jesus!'

(The writer is a Rogationist priest, presently Head of the Research Department in NISCORT, NCR Delhi. He is specialized in Biblical Theology, Social Communications and Missiology)

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Dec 15, 2013
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