Sunday, October 22, 2023

Saint John Paul II and “New Media”

October 22 is ordinarily the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II. This year it falls on a Sunday, which takes liturgical precedence. Still, it is a day to celebrate his outstanding legacy, and implore his ongoing intercession.

One of the last major statements that John Paul II published in his 26 year papacy was an Apostolic Letter on the “Rapid Development of Communications Media” (January 24, 2005). Those of us who remember him know the powerful use he made of transportation and communications technology at the end of the Second Millennium. His great pilgrimages all over the world were already further “extended” by means of broadcast television. In his final months, however, he also saw that communications media were on the cusp of further expansion in ways that would form new “spaces” of human interaction, raise new challenges, and offer new possibilities for evangelization and human development.

Without underestimating the magnitude of the changes which few of us foresaw in 2005, John Paul II took the opportunity to exhort us all — one more time — to “be not afraid.” His hope for humanity was always magnanimous, not because he was naive about the extent of wickedness and corruption in the world, but because he knew the always-greater power of Christ the Redeemer, who is the center of the universe and the Lord of history. John Paul II taught our generation to adhere to Jesus Christ, to His love and mercy, and in Him to engage the whole scope of human experience with confidence that Christ is the meaning and fulfillment of everything. His grace and wisdom make it possible to face new challenges in bearing witness to His Gospel and upholding the dignity of every human person in an ambivalent world that continues to change in so many confusing ways.

“The world of communications … is capable of unifying humanity and transforming it into — as it is commonly referred to — ‘a global village’. The communications media have acquired such importance as to be the principal means of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, familial, and social behavior. We are dealing with a complex problem, because the culture itself, prescinding from its content, arises from the very existence of new ways to communicate with hitherto unknown techniques and vocabulary.

“Ours is an age of global communication in which countless moments of human existence are either spent with, or at least confronted by, the different processes of the mass media. I limit myself to mentioning the formation of personality and conscience, the interpretation and structuring of affective relationships, the coming together of the educative and formative phases, the elaboration and diffusion of cultural phenomena, and the development of social, political and economic life.

“The mass media can and must promote justice and solidarity according to an organic and correct vision of human development, by reporting events accurately and truthfully, analyzing situations and problems completely, and providing a forum for different opinions. An authentically ethical approach to using the powerful communication media must be situated within the context of a mature exercise of freedom and responsibility, founded upon the supreme criteria of truth and justice.”