Catholic Communicators: Listening or Lip Service?

This was the theme for the World day of Social Communications, celebrated by Catholic communicators the world over on Ascension Sunday.
The 56th World Communications day, which fell on Sunday, 29 May. Never before has a theme been so apt for those who are engaged in the dissemination of the ‘good news’.
In a countries being buffeted by the winds of sectarian ideologies and divisiveness, the Catholic communicator must have the patience and the courage to listen to the voice of the Spirit.

So, in the context of India, where exactly are we at? What do we mean by Catholic social communication? Who are the communicators?

If we look at the ‘Church run communication scene’ there has been some growth in Church-run communication centres, and more priests and religious arming themselves with degrees in communications. We see the growth of church run studios in South India, the opening of some studios in Jharkhand, Media centres in Varanasi and Indore doing quite well.

We have some star TV personalities who are priests, such as Warner D’Souza from Bombay (Mumbai), whose daily teachings on liturgical contexts on YouTube have a huge following. There is a glut of faith-based content, Masses, homilies, and rosaries from a whole lot of congregation-run media centres. Live streaming of ordinations, masses, and funerals have become common.

But is that all that ‘social communications’ means to the Catholic Church?

The Catholic communication centres have not lived up to the socio-political challenges of the times, feel many observers.

“Meaningful communication is not about sophisticated centres, glossy publications or ‘projects’ to be run – but the ability to stand for and communicate the truth with prophetic courage. Pope Francis has been consistently challenging catholic communicators to live up to this call,” writes Jesuit social activist Father Cedric Prakash.

Listening without responding has no value.

Presentation Sister Dorothy Fernandes, National Convenor of the Forum for Justice and Peace has been working with the displaced and disadvantaged in the slums of Patna for years. She has often pointed out that when the ‘Official Church’ remains silent and uncommunicative on important and uncomfortable issues, such as the demonizing of religious minorities or the mistreatment of women religious, it loses the trust of the laity.

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Says Jesuit social activist Father Cedric Prakash, “For Pope Francis, ‘listen’ is not something theoretical; it is the sine qua non for any catholic communicator who is interested in authentic communications, through searching and arriving at nothing but the truth … One hears a common complaint today “nobody is listening!” Many experience this feeling – there is a painful story to share, a cry that needs to be heard – but nobody cares! That story, that cry becomes a voice crying in the wilderness!’

A lesson could be learnt from a country with far less resources than ours.

In far away Nigeria, buffeted by political storms and Islamist propaganda, the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta celebrated the World Communications Day in grand style.
The diocese marked the day with a triple inauguration: Abeokuta chapter of the Catholic Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria, the Parish Communications Commission, and Catholic Artists and Entertainers Association of Nigeria.

Most Rev Peter Olukayode Odetoyinbo

Day long celebrations began with a Mass celebrated by the bishop at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Adatan, Abeokuta, Ogun State. A seminar on the theme of the World Communications Day, ‘Listening with the ear of the heart’, was held inside the cathedral hall.

The Bishop, Most Rev Peter Olukayode Odetoyinbo, hosted communication experts, including print and broadcast journalists, advertisers, public relations professionals, marketing communication practitioners, musical and theatre art practitioners.

In India, recognition of Catholic lay professionals in the mainstream media is the need of the hour.

What about the Catholic media professionals, working and contributing to the dissemination of uncomfortable truths in the so-called ‘secular’ world? In many places the established church authorities are wary of them, especially if they are seen to be ‘sniffing around’ when they smell something fishy going on in the diocese!

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Recognition and encouragement of the Catholic journalists, reporters and media persons on such important days are practically non-existent in many dioceses.

“In Bihar and Jharkhand, not a single diocese, or even the Catholic communications wing called SIGNIS has ever instituted an honour or a felicitation for Catholic journalists, who are laity. One often sees Fathers and Sisters being lauded for their contributions to some Catholic publication, but the lay journalists who write for the regional and national papers have never been felicitated to my knowledge,” says Signis Bijhan member Manoj Das.

To quote from Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ: ‘It is important then, for all catholic communicators to do an honest and objective evaluation of their writings, productions and other forms of communications. How many of these have genuinely responded to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable, the excluded and exploited, the marginalized and the minorities of the country? How many have written/done productions against the sedition, the UAPA and other draconian laws? the illegal incarceration of human rights defenders? the demonizing of the Muslims? the anti-conversion laws? the three farm bills and the labour codes? The monstrous and extravagant Central Vista project? the denial of the legitimate rights of the Adivasis, Dalits, LGBTI? growing unemployment and spiralling prices? and much more? Do Catholic Communicators have the prophetic courage to take on the fascist and fundamentalist forces which are working overtime to destroy the sanctity of the Constitution and the secular, pluralistic fabric of our beloved nation? It is time then for introspection! It is time to change!’

‘Listen’ is the catchword of the 56th World Day for Social Communications, and in true synodal spirit, the Church must listen and learn to communicate positively at various levels.

Frank Krishner