VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2011 ( Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom by referring to elements from his environment: fields, seeds, flocks and other images. Today, says Benedict XVI, we are called to discover new symbols and metaphors, in order to proclaim the Gospel to a digital culture.

The Pope made this reflection today when he addressed participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

The Holy Father centered his reflection on the concept of "language." He referred to his Message for World Communications Day, which speaks of the cultural transformation being brought about by new communications technology.

"A new way of learning and thinking is being carried out, with unheard of opportunities to establish relationships and to build communion," he said.

In that context, the Pontiff offered a reflection on "the fact that thought and relationship always occur in the form of language, understood of course in a general sense, not just verbal."

Language, he said, is not just a "provisional coating of concepts," but rather the "living and palpitating context in which the thoughts, concerns and projects of men are born to the conscience and are molded in gestures, symbols and words."

"Hence, man not only 'uses' but in a certain way 'inhabits' the language," the Pope stated.

Call to caution

The language being developed for digital communication has particular tendencies, Benedict XVI observed, as it tends more to emotion and intuition than analysis, giving priority to images. There is no longer a clear distinction between written and spoken language, as writing in this digital world is taking the form and immediacy of oral communication.

The person, of course, is involved in this communication.

"When persons exchange information, they are already sharing themselves and their vision of the world," the Pope clarified. "They become 'witnesses' of what gives meaning to their existence."

This is not without risks, the Holy Father cautioned, and they are risks that are little considered -- dangers such as superficial relationships, over-emphasis on emotions, and "the prevalence of the most convincing opinion in regard to the desire for truth."

Thinking deeper

Benedict XVI affirmed that all of this makes reflection on language an urgency.

"The point of departure," he said, "is revelation itself, which gives us testimony of how God communicated his wonders precisely in the language and the real experience of men."

He stressed the need "to become attentive listeners of the languages of the men of our time, to be attentive to the work of God in the world."

For the Church, the challenge is not just to use today's language for the Gospel message, but to "think in a more profound way" about the relationship between faith and these changes.

"If the new languages have an impact on the way of thinking and living, they also affect, in some way, the world of faith, its intelligence and its expression," he said. "[...] The digital culture poses new challenges to our capacity to speak and to listen to a symbolic language that speaks of transcendence."

Christ called on the elements of his environment to proclaim the Kingdom, the Pontiff reminded; likewise, "we are called to discover, also in the digital culture, significant symbols and metaphors for persons, which can be of help when speaking of the Kingdom of God to contemporary man."

Linguistic seduction

The Bishop of Rome affirmed that an appeal to spiritual values is precisely the key to promoting a "truly human" communication.

This, he said, is what our nature as persons created in God's image calls for.

"[B]iblical communication according to the will of God is always linked to dialogue and responsibility, as attested, for example, by the figures of Abraham, Moses, Job and the Prophets, and never to linguistic seduction, as is, instead, the case of the serpent, or of incommunicability and of violence, as in the case of Cain," he reflected. "Hence the contribution of believers could be of help for the world of the media itself, opening horizons of meaning and value that the digital culture is not capable to perceive and represent on its own."

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