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Public opinion without and within the Church: fides et internetum (faith and the Internet).

The English title, as is customary, comes from the first three words of the text The rapid development. The Latin, however, better indicates what this letter is all about.

Because this last apostolic letter on the media was issued on February 21, 2005, it was completely overshadowed by the then already ongoing illness of John Paul II, followed by the death and funeral of this great pope, then the conclave and election of Benedict XVI and, finally, the new pope's installation.

American commentator Hugh Hewitt, host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of Blog: Understanding the information reformation that is changing our world, stated in the Weekly Standard on February 24, 2005: "It is an amazing document, and I can only urge you to read it in its entirety." He added: "I think it is addressed to me, and every other reporter, editor, blogger and broadcaster, whether Roman Catholic or not." I have used Mr. Hewitt's format to introduce the document; editor's comments are in italics. --Editor

In the apostolic letter the Pope first notes:

"The rapid development of technology in the area of the media is surely one of the signs of progress in today's society ... 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."

In the 1990's encyclical Redemptoris missio, the Holy Father recalled that:

"After preaching in a number of places, St. Paul arrived in Athens, where he went to the Areopagus and proclaimed the Gospel in language appropriate to and understandable in those surroundings (cf. Acts 17:22-31). At that time the Areopagus represented the cultural centre of the learned people of Athens, and today it can be taken as a symbol of the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed .... The first Areopagus of the modern age is the world of communications, which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a 'global village' [emphasis added]."


In this document, the Holy Father basically repeats the emphasised bold sentence above, and elaborates upon this Areopagus of communications. As in Paul's experience, some will reject the Gospel message, while others will be receptive. But we must be prepared to use contemporary media effectively. John Paul notes:

"the communications media have acquired such importance as to be the principal means of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, familial, and social behaviour."

Aspects of human existence that are impacted include, but are not limited to

"the formation of personality and conscience, the interpretation and structuring of affective relationships, the coming together of the educative and formative phases, the elaboration and diffusion of cultural phenomena, and the development of social, political and economic life."

The immense responsibility of the mass media includes "promot{ing} justice and solidarity" and "providing a forum for different opinions."

The mission is best realized when their endeavours are "founded upon the supreme criteria of truth and justice." The Pope then quickly reviews the Christian view of history:

"Salvation history recounts and documents the communication of God with man, a communication which uses all forms and ways of communicating. The human being is created in the image and likeness of God in order to embrace divine revelation and to enter into loving dialogue with Him. Because of sin, this capacity for dialogue at both the personal and social level has been altered, and humanity has had to sufer, and will continue to suffer, the bitter experience of incomprehension and separation. God, however, did not abandon the human race, but sent His own Son (Cf. Mk 12:1-11). In the Word made flesh communication itself takes on its most profound saving meaning: thus, in the Holy Spirit, the human being is given the capacity to receive salvation, and to proclaim and give witness to it before the world."

Jesus, the communicator

The Pope notes that history's greatest communicator, Jesus, used a variety of techniques:

"The Incarnate Word has left us an example of how to communicate with the Father and with humanity, whether in moments of silence and recollection, or in preaching in every place and in every way. He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops. The personal encounter with him does not leave one indifferent, but stimulates imitation: 'What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops' (Mt. 10:27).

"There is, however, a culminating moment in which communication becomes full communion: the Eucharistic encounter. By recognizing Jesus in the "breaking of the bread" (cf. Luke 24:30-31), believers feel themselves urged on to announce his death and resurrection, and to become joyful and courageous witnesses of his Kingdom (cf. Luke 24:35).

"Thanks to the Redemption, the communicative capacity of believers is healed and renewed. The encounter with Christ makes them new creatures ..."

The Pope gives thanks for the new technology: "We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media."

He notes that the new technology can be a tremendous help:

"In the communications media the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good ...

"In an age such as ours ... there exists the conviction that the time of certainties is irretrievably past. Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting. In this context, the communications media can be used 'to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence within men's hearts'....

"Consecrated persons belonging to institutions with the charism of using the mass media have a particular responsibility ... to offset the inappropriate use of the media and to promote higher quality programs."

Task of the laity

Why does the Pontiff encourage the faithful with talent to enter the media?

"New technologies, in particular, create further opportunities for communication understood as a service to the pastoral government and organization of the different tasks of the Christian community. One clear example today is how the Internet not only provides resources for more information, but habituates persons to interactive communication. Many Christians are already creatively using this instrument, exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance. However, alongside the Internet, other new means of communication, as well as traditional ones, should be used. Daily and weekly newspapers, publications of all types, and Catholic television and radio still remain highly useful means within a complete panorama of Church communications."

The goal, the Pope states, "must always be to make people aware of the ethical and moral dimension of the information .... Often {media professionals} 'sincerely desire to know and practise what is ethically and morally just'"

Public opinion within the Church

The Pope sees the use of the media as threefold: formation, participation, and dialogue. Under this heading he sees:

* "the need of education in the responsible and critical use of the media;"

* "the culture of co-responsibility;" and

* great possibilities of mass media in promoting dialogue, becoming vehicles for reciprocal knowledge, of solidarity and of peace."

The Pope then briefly discusses the role of public opinion in the Church:

"The reflection upon the role 'of public opinion in the Church,' and 'of the Church in public opinion' aroused great interest. In a meeting with the editors of Catholic publications, my venerable predecessor, Plus XII, stated that something would be missing from the life of the Church were it not for public opinion.

"This same idea has since been repeated on other occasions, and in the Code of Canon Law there is recognized, under certain conditions, the right to the expression of one's own opinion. While it is true that the truths of the faith are not open to arbitrary interpretations, and that respect for the rights of others places intrinsic limits upon the expression of one's judgments, it is no less true that there is still room among Catholics for an exchange of opinions in a dialogue which is respectful of justice and prudence.

"Communication both within the Church community, and between the Church and the world at large, requires openness and a new approach towards facing questions regarding the world of media. This communication must tend towards a constructive dialogue, so as to promote a correctly-informed and discerning public opinion within the Christian community."

If properly understood, participation in the Internet and mass media is fruitful:

"'A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world.' ...

"Believers in Christ know that they can count upon the help of the Holy Spirit.... 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."
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Title Annotation:The Last Apostolic Letter of JOHN PAUL II
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Previous Article:The Charter & the supremacy of God.
Next Article:Our Catholic faith.

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