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3 Decades of Harnessing the Media

Interview With Founder of Digital Network of the Church in Latin America

BARCELONA, Spain, SEPT. 5, 2006 ( It took awhile for the means of communication to be appreciated as powerful means of evangelization, says a retired Vatican official.

Monsignor Enrique Planas, a Catalan native, had worked in the Pontifical Council for Social Communications from 1973 until last April. He founded the Digital Network of the Church in Latin America, RIIAL.

ZENIT interviewed him about his work and the activities of the Vatican dicastery in its task of promoting and encouraging communication in the Church. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

Q: Your work has consisted above all in sensitizing the Church, in particular the pastors and professionals of the media, on the indispensable presence of believers in this field.

Monsignor Planas: Indeed, these objectives covered a good part of the activity in the area entrusted to me, especially in Latin America and in the world of film and new technologies.

In the latter, I have had the satisfaction — thanks above all to the intelligent understanding of my president, Archbishop John P. Foley — to open new paths and break up the terrain for the irruption in the Church of the world of new information and communication technologies, not only in an effective but also in an exemplary way, as recognized by the highest international organizations.

I believe that in this and in many other areas the task of the pontifical council has been exemplary.

Q: Do you see changes in the present situation with respect to the situation you found when you arrived in Rome?

Monsignor Planas: The bishops’ visit to the Pontifical Council of Social Communications during their stay in Rome on the occasion of the “ad limina” visits is a barometer to measure the sensitivity of the Church in the area of social communication.

In the beginning, except for some who were especially enlightened, the general stance of prelates from all over the world was of a holy indifference in regard to the value and efficacy of these means of communicating. With the passing of years, they began to be considered valid, then of great importance and finally indispensable for evangelization.

Today in the realm of the Church reference is made to social communication as the essential co-protagonist in the great change of cultural paradigm that humanity is experiencing, which implies a great challenge for the Church which is and must be teacher in humanity, something she has accepted.

Q: What do pastors still have to understand in general about the Popes’ teachings on communication?

Monsignor Planas: Indeed, as you point out, the Popes have been up to the measure of this great challenge, which implies an exigency and a discipline on the part of the pastors of the people of God for whom an undefined sensitivity is not enough before the question but calls for an active effort, which implies surrounding oneself with truly competent advisers, integrating the communicative effort in the pastoral program as a whole, forming specialized professors, taking care in the formation of cadres of the Church — seminaries, Catholic universities, study centers, etc.

These means and technologies affect both the organizational as well as the pastoral aspects. The churches must be able to enjoy the advantages and services offered by the new technologies, especially information and data transmission, the reason why they must be able to count on the immediacy and proximity of a specialized technician.

The pontifical council has been successful in its endeavor to see that these services are not lacking, although the process is complex and slow, in keeping with the rhythms, sensitivity and possibilities of each local Church.

Q: And what can media professionals of the Church understand in addition?

Monsignor Planas: The Church has great cultural, spiritual, educational and at times material wealth. Today if continuous dialogue with professionals of the means of social communication is lacking, this wealth to which I refer remains dead to a great extent.

Communications professionals have much preparation and specific weight. Their dialogue with pastors of the people of God — continuous and institutionalized — is without a doubt a source of wealth for both parties.

In different areas of its activity and presence, both within as well as outside Vatican City, the pontifical council acts in some way as interlocutor and bridge between the different areas of the media world and the pastoral work of the Holy See.

Q: You were the creator and promoter of the Digital Network of the Church in Latin America, RIIAL, a pioneer reality in the Catholic Church even before the popularization of the Internet. What have you discovered in promoting this project?

Monsignor Planas: Thank you very much for those words which are valid if, when saying “you” you include the whole team of people that have made viable this reality which today is efficient and recognized.

You don’t know how much I regret not being able to mention them all, one by one, as it is to them that areas of the real protagonism belong.

Promoting this project has made me see that in the realm of the Church all that is good is possible. There is in the Church a capacity for collaboration in the freedom that makes the construction of new realities an easy operation of great stability.

It is difficult for me to think of other structures that have a more complete vision of man in all his dimensions. The personal effort and generosity more than supplement the lack of sophisticated means.

What is important is the contents which man cannot do without for his human and spiritual development. So then, almost without realizing it, the conditions are there to build a complex edifice of services and contents.

Thank God, today RIIAL is an operative reality in the whole Latin American continent which serves, with discretion and efficiency, both the Church as well as society, in particular those who are most far-off.

Q: What do you expect from this network in the future?

Monsignor Planas: That according to the will of John Paul II, which my immediate superiors made their own, and which is the heart of the great document “The Rapid Development,” this effort to create structures at the service of evangelization and human development will extend to other continents, especially to Africa, which is in such great need.

If we think in terms of the future, we realize that information technology makes possible the creation of thought in a more rapid and effective way perhaps than any other instrument of the past. This technology of communication provides in an immediate way the interdisciplinary and interactive contribution indispensable for the building of the wisdom of the future.

To create and disseminate learning has always been dear and these new technologies make it easy and accessible. At present we are working intensely on the creation of some interdisciplinary “Areas of Study, Formation and Dialogue,” many of whose elements are already at the disposition of the Church’s cultural endeavor.

It is amazing and hopeful to see the desire of intellectuals — individuals and institutions — of enormous worth to participate in this new venture.

Q: You, moreover, have been director delegate of the Vatican Film Library. Does the Church dialogue with the film world?

Monsignor Planas: She has always dialogued, since the creation itself of the cinematographic means, with ups and downs, of course. But the Popes have always been able to enlighten this world according to the cultural sensitivity of the moment and the different geographies.

Everything possible has been done from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to have an effective presence in the world of culture and cinematographic creations that, assuredly, has been surprisingly well received.

It is to be hoped that in the cinematographic orientation attention will be paid to Pope Benedict XVI when he reminds that “Catholicism is not a cumulus of prohibitions but a positive option” and that our duty is to highlight through dialogue “what we want that is positive.”

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