Pope Francis has chosen ‘Fear not, for I am with you (Is 43:5): Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time’ as the theme for his message for World Communications Day 2017. The text of the Pope’s message was published on 24 January, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, editors and journalists. The 51st World Communications Day will be formally celebrated on Sunday 28 May next – the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – which falls on the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday.
Welcoming this year’s message, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is chair of the Council for Communications of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “I warmly welcome the theme and the tone of Pope Francis’ message for this year’s World Communications Day which focuses on trust, hope, encounter, positivity, and responsibility in communications. Pope Francis introduces his theme by sharing the words from Isaiah ‘Fear not, for I am with you’.
“When I read Pope Francis’ message, I was struck by how timely it is in asking us all to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter.
“When I look back at 2016 it seems to have been a year which carried a lot of bad news in the headlines and on the airwaves. In his message Pope Francis says that he is convinced that ‘we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on bad news (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure).’ At first glance this would seem to suggest that we should switch off from bad news or ignore the human suffering around us in our world. That is not the case. As a Gospel people we are people of hope. What Pope Francis is inviting us to do is to ‘work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.’
“One of the lines that I was most struck by in the Holy Father’s message is when he asks everyone to ‘offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart good news’. We addressed this issue with Pope Francis when we met him last Friday as part of our Ad Limina visit. The Good News that Pope Francis speaks about in his message is the same ‘Joy of the Gospel’ we spoke to him about last Friday. This message of hope and positivity about conversion and starting over, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about the sacredness of all human life and the wonder of God’s creation, about marriage, family and solidarity, about charity, truth and justice is a message the world needs to hear now more than ever.
“As the bishops of Ireland conclude our Ad Limina in Rome today, we do so in the knowledge that we are emboldened by the Joy of the Gospel and we are more determined than ever to spread this message in and out of season.
“In his message Pope Francis invites us to change the lens through which we view things and to always have hope. He says, ‘Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure.’ Pope Francis also says that ‘Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate’. This confidence is what enables us to carry out the work we need to do.
“I invite all engaged in communications – professionally or privately on digital media – to take a few minutes to read this message which is refreshing in its tone and relevant in its content. Pope Francis seeks to remind us that good news can sell, and that we can all be beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.”
Please find below the full text of this year’s World Communications Day message:
‘Fear not, for I am with you (Is 43:5):
Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time’
Access to the media – thanks to technological progress – makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false. The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always “grinding”, but it is up to us to choose what to feed them (cf. SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, Epistle to Leontius).
I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.
I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.
I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.
Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?
For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.
This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation. He has told us that we are not alone, for we have a Father who is constantly mindful of his children. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5): these are the comforting words of a God who is immersed in the history of his people. In his beloved Son, this divine promise – “I am with you” – embraces all our weakness, even to dying our death. In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure. That hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5) and makes new life blossom, like a shoot that springs up from the fallen seed. Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.
Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom
To introduce his disciples and the crowds to this Gospel mindset and to give them the right “lens” needed to see and embrace the love that dies and rises, Jesus uses parables. He frequently compares the Kingdom of God to a seed that releases its potential for life precisely when it falls to the earth and dies (cf. Mk 4:1-34). This use of images and metaphors to convey the quiet power of the Kingdom does not detract from its importance and urgency; rather, it is a merciful way of making space for the listener to freely accept and appropriate that power. It is also a most effective way to express the immense dignity of the Paschal mystery, leaving it to images, rather than concepts, to communicate the paradoxical beauty of new life in Christ. In that life, hardship and the cross do not obstruct, but bring about God’s salvation; weakness proves stronger than any human power; and failure can be the prelude to the fulfilment of all things in love. This is how hope in the Kingdom of God matures and deepens: it is “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow” (Mk 4:26-27).
The Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, like a seed that is easily overlooked, yet silently takes root. Those to whom the Holy Spirit grants keen vision can see it blossoming. They do not let themselves be robbed of the joy of the Kingdom by the weeds that spring up all about.
The horizons of the Spirit
Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension. Even though the Lord may now appear more distant, the horizons of hope expand all the more. In Christ, who brings our human nature to heaven, every man and woman can now freely “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). By “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7‑8).
Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate. This confidence enables us to carry out our work – in all the different ways that communication takes place nowadays – with the conviction that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.
Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough. We nurture it by reading ever anew the Gospel, “reprinted” in so many editions in the lives of the saints who became icons of God’s love in this world. Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2017
Notes to editors
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
- The World Day of Social Communications, which the Church celebrates on 28 May 2017, is the only World Day established by the Second Vatican Council. In 1963 the Council issued the Decree on the tools of social communication, Inter mirifica, which included the proposal that the Church should celebrate a day dedicated to social communications.
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