No Digital Sacraments

Social Communications Council President Reflects on Promise, Challenge of New Environment

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The topic of communication will be thoroughly discussed during the Synod on the Family, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli.

The archbishop said this in an interview last week with ZENIT, in which he discusses the theme for World Communications Day, announced today, and the changing face of communication in the world and Church today.

ZENIT: Your Excellency, two conferences have just been held with bishops on communication. Why?

Archbishop Celli: These seminars are inserted in the collaborative dialogue that exists between the Pontifical Council for Communications and CELAM [the bishops councils of Latin America]. This initiative, of holding seminars of bishops, began some time ago. We already held two in Brazil last year and one in Argentina for the Bishops of the Southern Cone, and another in Cuba. This year, instead, we have held one in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the Bishops of Peru and Bolivia. The second one was held in Bogota for the Bishops of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.  Then in November we will hold one in Mexico with the whole Episcopal Conference. And also in November, we will be in Managua with all the Bishops of Central America and the Caribbean.

ZENIT: What is the underlying topic?

Archbishop Celli: It is to help the Bishops to understand what is happening in the world of communication, and to understand that the present communicative technologies are not only instruments but opportunities that create a new existential environment. And this is the great discovery. They are not just another instrument at hand, but technologies that are an environment of life where men work and live. For instance, today a European youth spends between three to five hours in front of a computer. And this environment of life is a network, as the social networks are.

Then our problem is to help Bishops to understand that communication today is no longer only an instrument, such as having a radio, television or newspaper, but to see how the new technologies create challenges and opportunities to proclaim the Gospel.

ZENIT: And how should Catholics relate to the social networks?

Archbishop Celli: Pope Francis has said it clearly: they must not be afraid to enter the social networks. It’s true, it isn’t a naïve invitation, as the Pope knows perfectly the limits and dangers of the social networks. However, he says: be present and give witness. And in a very nice way he says that it is not about bombarding the networks with religious messages. We must not engage in proselytism but give witness. So people must give witness of the values in which they believe, with their presence, with their judgments, with their values, with their evaluation of things. It’s true that many people will come to know Jesus Christ in the social networks, because many men and women of today will never step into a church, but will be able to encounter the Lord in the social networks. This is a challenge.

ZENIT: In other words, give a good testimony, no?

Archbishop Celli: A layman, for instance, can express a judgment, evaluations on today’s life, on an event, a news item, on how he reacts to life. Because Paul VI already said: “The world today believes more in testimonies than in teachers. And if he believes the Teacher he does so because Jesus is a testimony. There is a very lovely phrase that Pope Benedict XVI used and which Francis has taken up: “The Church grows by attraction, not be proselytism,” and I stress this a lot. On Facebook, for instance, it is necessary to make one’s witness, one’s sentiments present again. The Pope asks us to be genuine, and to give value to values.

ZENIT: And what about the Web sites that do make a formal proclamation of the Word?

Archbishop Celli: Yes, there are also those that make a formal proclamation. I met people, for instance, someone at a congress who had discovered the Lord by visiting a monastic Web site, and he said in public “if I have recovered my faith today it is thanks to that Web site.” However, we don’t have to be roving preachers, we must not bombard with religious messages. Otherwise, it would be enough to have a computer that every so many minutes sends a phrase of the Gospel. But it’s not this, rather it’s the witness given with one’s example and style of life.

ZENIT: Is the digital environment sufficient?

Archbishop Celli: The second important thing: I cannot become a disciple of the Lord only on the Internet. I must have a concrete community that receives me. I cannot think that my Christian life is connected only to the Internet. I can begin to know, to understand, I can open prospects in my mind and heart, but then I need to find a concrete community with which to journey. Suffice it to think of the Sacraments; I cannot access them on the Internet.

ZENIT: So, how can one pass from a digital to a real community?

Archbishop Celli: Now one must find people to help one make this move from the Internet to a real community, for instance, to invite a person to a meeting in one’s community. This is the great challenge.

ZENIT: During the Synod on the Family, will your Dicastery say something on the family and communication?

Archbishop Celli: There must not be a reductionist view of the Synod, which will also address the topic of the Gospel of the family. And I can tell you ahead of time that the next topic of the World Day of Social Communications will be communication and family. The Pope wants the subject of communication to enter the subject of the family. With two Synods before us, that of the month of October and that of 2015, it is undeniable that the subject of the family will be fundamental. You will soon see the subject, which will be published this coming Monday. The theme of the message will be published on the day of the feast of the Archangels.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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Sergio Mora

Buenos Aires, Argentina Estudios de periodismo en el Istituto Superiore di Comunicazione de Roma y examen superior de italiano para extranjeros en el Instituto Dante Alighieri de Roma. Periodista profesional de la Associazione Stampa Estera en Italia, y publicista de la Orden de periodistas de Italia. Fue corresponsal adjunto del diario español El País de 2000 a 2004, colaborador de los programas en español de la BBC y de Radio Vaticano. Fue director del mensual Expreso Latino, realizó 41 programas en Sky con Babel TV. Actualmente además de ser redactor de ZENIT colabora con diversos medios latinoamericanos.

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