Papal Message for World Communications Day
"The Media: A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is Benedict XVI's message for the 40th World Communications Day. The message, published today, is entitled "The Media: A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation." The World Day will be observed May 27.

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The Media: A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the wake of the fortieth-anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, I am happy to recall its Decree on the Means of Social Communication, "Inter Mirifica," which in particular recognized the power of the media to influence the whole of human society. The need to harness that power for the benefit of all mankind has prompted me, in this my first message for World Communications Day, to reflect briefly on the idea of the media as a network facilitating communication, communion, and cooperation.

Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, vividly depicts our human vocation to be "sharers in the divine nature" ("Dei Verbum," 2): through Christ we have access in one Spirit to the Father; so we are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, growing into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God (cf. Ephesians 2:18-22). This sublime portrayal of a life of communion engages all aspects of our lives as Christians. The call to be true to the self-communication of God in Christ is in fact a call to recognize his dynamic force within us, which then seeks to spread outwards to others, so that his love can truly become the prevalent measure of the world (cf. Homily for World Youth Day, Cologne, 21 August 2005).

2. Technological advances in the media have in certain respects conquered time and space, making communication between people, even when separated by vast distances, both instantaneous and direct. This development presents an enormous potential for service of the common good and "constitutes a patrimony to safeguard and promote" ("Rapid Development," 10). Yet, as we all know, our world is far from perfect. Daily we are reminded that immediacy of communication does not necessarily translate into the building of cooperation and communion in society.

To inform the consciences of individuals and help shape their thinking is never a neutral task. Authentic communication demands principled courage and resolve. It requires a determination of those working in the media not to wilt under the weight of so much information nor even to be content with partial or provisional truths. Instead it necessitates both seeking and transmitting what is the ultimate foundation and meaning of human, personal and social existence (cf. "Fides et Ratio," 5). In this way the media can contribute constructively to the propagation of all that is good and true.

3. The call for today's media to be responsible -- to be the protagonist of truth and promoter of the peace that ensues -- carries with it a number of challenges. While the various instruments of social communication facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, and mutual understanding among groups, they are also tainted by ambiguity. Alongside the provision of a "great round table" for dialogue, certain tendencies within the media engender a kind of monoculture that dims creative genius, deflates the subtlety of complex thought and undervalues the specificity of cultural practices and the particularity of religious belief. These are distortions that occur when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good.

Accurate reporting of events, full explanation of matters of public concern, and fair representation of diverse points of view must, then, always be fostered. The need to uphold and support marriage and family life is of particular importance, precisely because it pertains to the foundation of every culture and society (cf. "Apostolicam Actuositatem," 11). In cooperation with parents, the social communications and entertainment industries can assist in the difficult but sublimely satisfying vocation of bringing up children, through presenting edifying models of human life and love (cf. "Inter Mirifica," 11). How disheartening and destructive it is to us all when the opposite occurs. Do not our hearts cry out, most especially, when our young people are subjected to debased or false expressions of love which ridicule the God-given dignity of every human person and undermine family interests?

4. To encourage both a constructive presence and a positive perception of the media in society, I wish to reiterate the importance of three steps, identified by my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, necessary for their service of the common good: formation, participation, and dialogue (cf. "Rapid Development," 11).

Formation in the responsible and critical use of the media helps people to use them intelligently and appropriately. The profound impact upon the mind of new vocabulary and of images, which the electronic media in particular so easily introduce into society, cannot be overestimated. Precisely because contemporary media shape popular culture, they themselves must overcome any temptation to manipulate, especially the young, and instead pursue the desire to form and serve. In this way they protect rather than erode the fabric of a civil society worthy of the human person.

Participation in the mass media arises from their nature as a good destined for all people. As a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust (cf. "Ethics in Communications," 20), including recourse to regulatory standards and other measures or structures designed to effect this goal.

Finally, the promotion of dialogue through the exchange of learning, the _expression of solidarity and the espousal of peace presents a great opportunity for the mass media which must be recognized and exercised. In this way they become influential and appreciated resources for building the civilization of love for which all peoples yearn.

I am confident that serious efforts to promote these three steps will assist the media to develop soundly as a network of communication, communion and cooperation, helping men, women and children, to become more aware of the dignity of the human person, more responsible, and more open to others especially the neediest and the weakest members of society (cf. "Redemptor Hominis," 15; "Ethics in Communications," 4).

In conclusion, I return to the encouraging words of Saint Paul: Christ is our peace. In him we are one (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Let us together break down the dividing walls of hostility and build up the communion of love according to the designs of the Creator made known through his Son!

From the Vatican, 24 January 2006, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.

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VATICAN CITY, JUN 2, 2006 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received a group of 1,200 journalists and technicians from the Italian daily "Avvenire," the television channel Sat 2000, and other communications media belonging to the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI). The group was led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini president of the CEI.

   "Dear friends," said the Pope, "yours is a truly important function. Indeed, it is also thanks to your efforts that the commitment of Italian Catholics to bring the Gospel of Christ to the lives of nations can continue."

   The Holy Father then went on to recall the foundation of "Avvenire" by order of Paul VI in the years following Vatican Council II, and the subsequent expansion of Catholic communications media to include radio and television.

   "In order to understand the overall significance of the work to which you dedicate yourselves every day," the Pope said, "it may prove useful to reflect briefly upon the relationship between faith and culture" in Europe. "European culture ... was formed over centuries with the contribution of Christianity. However, since the Enlightenment western culture has been distancing itself from its Christian foundations." And, "especially in recent times, ... the reduction of faith to a subjective experience and the consequent secularization of public conscience show us, clearly and dramatically, the consequences of this separation."
   
  Nonetheless, the Pope continued, in various parts of the continent "experiences of and approaches to Christian culture are being affirmed or emerging anew, with increasing force. In particular, Catholic faith is still substantially present in the life of the Italian people and the signs of its renewed vitality are visible to all.

   "Therefore," he added, "constant discernment is necessary in your work as communicators inspired by the Gospel. As you well know, the pastors of the Italian Church are careful to conserve those Christian forms that come from the great traditions of the Italian people and that mould community life, updating them, purifying them where necessary and, above all, reinforcing and encouraging them. It is also your duty to sustain and promote the new Christian experiences that are coming into being, helping them to develop an ever greater awareness of their ecclesial roots and of the role they can play."
   
  Benedict XVI described the work of the communicators as "a task not to be undertaken in an abstract or purely intellectual manner, but remaining attentive to the infinite details of the real life of a people."

   "Do not tire," he concluded, "of building bridges of understanding and communication between ecclesiastical experience and public opinion. Thus you will be protagonists of a form of communication ... that serves modern mankind."

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Note: Religion Enters Media Mainstream
Big Public Response to Christian Message

NEW YORK, JUNE 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Demand for religious content in the media continues to grow. This can have its downside, as "The Da Vinci Code" and the "Gospel of Judas" demonstrated. But it also means that doors are opening up for Christians who want to get their message across.

Domestic sales of religious products in the United States are likely to reach $9.5 billion by 2010, the New York Times reported April 26. The estimate comes from market research publisher Packaged Facts. In addition to the film market, sales of Christian-oriented books, music, video games and computer software are increasing.

Television is also opening up to religious programs. On May 21 the British newspaper Observer reported that the BBC is putting the finishing touches to a project that will depict the life of Jesus and the events leading up to his crucifixion. Scheduled for Holy Week in 2008, it will consist of a series of nightly programs in a drama-style format.

The article also commented on the recent annual awards for religious television programs, held in Lambeth Palace, the seat of the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury. The head of the judging panel, Jane Drabble, a former BBC executive, expressed her surprise at the good quality of the contestants.

The winner was "A Test of Faith," from the channel ITV. It reported on reactions from those affected by the London terrorist bombings of last July 7. The runner-up was an experimental series, "Priest Idol," shown in prime time by Channel 4. It chronicled the efforts of Anglican priest James McCaskill in trying to revive a dying parish. "The Monastery," a reality-type show that followed the experiences of five men who spent 40 days in an abbey, won a merit award. The program attracted 2.5 million viewers, and a sequel is being planned.

Reality shows

On May 22 another British paper, the Independent, also reflected on the popularity of reality-type religious programs. June will see "The Convent," from BBC2. It will follow the experience of four women as they spend six weeks in a community of nuns. June will also see Channel 4 transmit "Six Feet Under: The Muslim Way," about a London-based Muslim funeral service.

The Independent observed that in order to attract the attention of a new generation, religion needs to entertain. And the human-interest angle typical of reality television shows is one way to do this.

The reality format for religion is also taking off in the United States. "God or the Girl," a five-part series started on Easter Sunday, broadcast on A&E Television. The four protagonists had to decide whether to enter the seminary or to opt for marriage.

A U.S. version of the British show "The Monastery" is also in preparation, and set to screen this fall in 10 parts on the Learning Channel. Five men and five women from a variety of backgrounds are depicted as they spend 40 days in a monastery, the Boston Globe reported April 11.

The men lived from early February to mid-March at the Monastery of Christ, located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The women spent time at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey on a farm near Dubuque, Iowa, from December to early February.

"We're interested in exploring how people like us can live a good and purposeful life and what the 1,500-year-old monastic tradition can teach modern people," explained the producer, Sarah Woodford.

Publishing boom

In the print sector a wave of religious books is hitting the stores, Reuters reported March 28.

Authors are anxious to ride the coattails of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Offerings include Michael Baigent's "The Jesus Papers," which denies Christ died on the cross. Books criticizing Brown are also enjoying success; Erwin Lutzer, an evangelical minister, has sold 300,000 copies of his "The Da Vinci Deception."

Other books include "Divine," a parable about a modern Magdalene figure, by Karen Kingsbury, described as a Christian fiction writer. Her books have sold more than 4 million copies, according to Reuters. And Bart Ehrman will be coming out with "Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene." The book looks at some of the issues raised by Brown, and denies there is evidence of any marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

On a lighter note, religious comic books are also selling well. The London-based Telegraph newspaper on March 26 reported on a project to turn the lives of the saints into comic books. It's part of an effort to attract young people to the Catholic Church.

The comics are published by Arcadius Press, of Springfield, Missouri. The series will be launched in Britain later this year, and the plan is to issue four comic books a month.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, a comic book version, in a number of installments, of the New Testament is being published, reported the South China Morning Post on May 21. Apeiron Production Company was commissioned to publish the text by Australian-based property developer Larry Lee Siu-kee.

Lee said he was spurred to do it after the recent publication of what he called falsehoods. "By stating their stories as fact, like in 'The Da Vinci Code,' they are poison for young people, many of whom will think it is real," he explained. Lee said that the 6,000 copies of the first installment have been flying off the shelves, prompting him to print a further 20,000 copies.

Electronic

From print to the electronic media. The best-selling series of apocalyptic "Left Behind" books is now being converted into a video game, the Los Angeles Times reported May 10. The game, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," made its debut at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, in Los Angeles.

It was not alone. Another producer was marketing games based on the "Veggie Tales" series of Christian videos for children. And another was pushing "Bibleman: A Fight for Faith," reported about a superhero who stands up for the word of God.

Christian-inspired video games still have a long way to go, according to the Los Angeles Times. One of the best-selling Christian based video games, "Catechumen," produced by the San Diego-based Christian Game Developers Foundation, has sold 80,000 copies since 1999. This falls far short of such successes as the 5.1 million copies of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

Other initiatives to get the religious message across include a satellite radio station for New York City. The Catholic archdiocese there recently announced a venture with Sirius Satellite Radio to establish a channel, the New York Times reported May 11. Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the channel is scheduled to begin this fall.

The article noted that of the 17,000 licensed terrestrial radio stations in the United States, 1,700 are Protestant or evangelical Christian in nature, but just 130 are Catholic. According to Stephen Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, the number of Catholic stations has been growing by about one station a month.

The Church celebrated World Communications Day last Sunday. In his message for the occasion, dated Jan. 24, Benedict XVI urged the media to "contribute constructively to the propagation of all that is good and true" (No. 2).

The Pope also noted that Christians are called to share God's message with others. This call stems from recognition of Christ's dynamic force within us, "which then seeks to spread outward to others, so that his love can truly become the prevalent measure of the world" (No. 1). A force that is increasingly finding an outlet in the media.

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