We publish here the presentation by Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, delivered during the press conference on May 29, 2023.
To whom is this document addressed?
The answer is: to everyone. Not only to believers. Not only to professionals. The social media environment affects us all. No one is excluded. The document is addressed to all who are willing to read it, and thus continue the reflection on the issues it deals with. The document was born as a response to the many questions that have been addressed to this Dicastery; both in the Ad limina visits, by many bishops, and by many other interlocutors at various levels. The document is the result of a journey traveled together: together with young communicators, experts, our members, and consultors (before during and after the last plenary; which took place last fall), and it is fitting on this occasion to thank all the people who collaborated in the genesis of this text:
those who shared questions, concerns, reflections, ideas,
those who participated with answers to precise questions, with comments, even critical ones, with drafting, revising, and translating the text...
It is truly a text born of the union in faith, which we hand over to everyone today to generate new questions, reflections, ideas, and criticisms... As Card. Martini in his pastoral letter "Effatà" (1990-91), communicating is difficult, it requires a dialogical back and forth, patient, benevolent, and active interlocutors, to make communication active, reciprocal, not simply passive or resigned.
I would like to make his words my own here. In reading, everyone will be able to find the sentences, the paragraphs that speak to them, that wake them up inside. And also those that seem perhaps hostile, or difficult, or abstract. And everyone will be able in this case to ask themselves how to say it better. That's it. If we can activate this process. Out of it will come what Martini called a real "communication exercise." Of a communication capable of producing change. Someone reading our document may find it too optimistic, someone else too pessimistic; someone else will ask why there are no precise recommendations, or practical advice. As you have seen, the document does not start from technology; it is not a directoire, nor a kind of practical-functional guideline. It is a theological, and pastoral reflection; one that comes from looking at the Gospel to provoke a personal and collective examination of conscience. Its focus is on man, not machine. The network in its truest and deepest sense, not the connection. The heart, not the algorithm.
It wants to reply both to those who are concerned about the drift taken by the digital age and to those who think that digital is the magic, technological solution to all problems. True, we entered the social age as explorers, thinking of it as a promised land; and we risk coming out as objects, commodities to be weighed and sold by the pound. We were looking for an order based on sharing the truth, and we find ourselves with an order based on misinformation. But there is always a promised land. The digital world, even the social world, is not static. It is up to all of us to transform it, to take it away from the cold logic of the market, profit, and marketing; to liberate it from the one-sided dogmas of the corporations that run it, to hand it back to the criterion of the common good, of free sharing. It is up to us to renegotiate the rules, to renegotiate the algorithms, and to reappropriate relationships.
Even if it were true that social - as some say - is doing more harm than good, socially, politically, and culturally; and if it is true that it induces us to a kind of reconfiguration of the way of reasoning, basing it on intuition rather than reflection; this is exactly the time to reflect on how and what to change in order to use the talents of time (and therefore also social media) to move from connection to sharing; and to rediscover the deep foundation of who we are, as Catholics and as humankind: subjects eager for true relationships. It is time for conscious renegotiation.
The document proposes to seek (and invites us to seek) a faith-inspired response to all this... With the awareness that it is naïve to think that just because we are Christians we will be immune to the sirens, fanaticisms, and narcissisms of our time; with the responsibility of those who know they should not (and cannot) flee from their time; with the humility of those who feel called to witness anyway and know that change must be made together with civil society. By starting a discourse. Aggregating a consensus. We will be happy if this pastoral reflection succeeds in opening a space for dialogue. As Card. Martini did so many years ago, so we too ask all people of goodwill today to continue to elaborate a better reflection than this one.
Why a website.
That is why we have also published a website: to share good practices and grow together in discernment. At fullypresent.website you can find some initial indications of what can be done to contribute to a common reflection, such as the possibility of flagging local churches' documents, academic texts, initiatives, and events in a predisposed world map. It is a first step to creating more synergies, more communion of purpose.
Why is this reflection inspired precisely by the Good Samaritan.
Because it is addressed to everyone. We often find ourselves wounded, sometimes groping in the dark. It is not merely because we are Christians that we have the solutions in our pockets. Rather we have to find them together.
The Pope has several times explicitly pointed to the Good Samaritan as the icon of the communicator. The icon of the Good Samaritan is an invitation to go against the tide. The Good Samaritan on the net may appear in the immediate moment to be a loser ... because on the net those who care for the other do not automatically emerge; algorithms more easily select those who shout the loudest, those who create the most division. The Good Samaritan's attitude is not lofty, he acts almost covertly, intervenes and then disappears. But his testimony acts over time. In depth.
This icon then inspires us to look not only for a Christian style for our involvement in social media, but also to ask ourselves how we live as Christians in a technocratic and individualistic society producing indifference, or deaf antagonisms.
Why a logo with two fishes.
The creation of the logo and website was entrusted to a group of young communicators who participated in the "Faith Communication in the Digital World" program, the pilot training project that this Dicastery has been carrying out for three years by selecting 16 young professionals from different parts of the world.
The Fish is a Christian symbol; the gaze expresses the dynamics of encounter. This is how our young friends summarized the experience of their journey and research. Inviting us to work in the digital world for a communication made to unite and not to divide, to build relationships and not oppositions.