Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Ascension and the 44th World Communications Day

For 44 years now, the feast of the Ascension of the Lord has been regarded as World Communications day. This is because before He ascended into heaven, the Lord gave his Apostles the mandate to go and preach the gospel to all creatures: “Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” From the very beginning of her existence, the Church has taken this mandate seriously. Long before the invention of comfortable ways of travel, the Apostles traveled on foot and by sea in order to reach the farthest corner of the earth. Thus, in this way, St. Thomas reached India and St. Peter reached Rome. They traveled far and died preaching the gospel. Missionaries have followed the example of the apostles. Portugal and Spain, at the height of their power, sent galleons to the other side of the world not only to expand their territories and to search for spices but also to preach the gospel to all nations. Indeed, what Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi is true: “The reason for the existence of the Church on earth is so that the Gospel may be heard in the farthest corners of the earth.”

In our times, digital communications offer to us new possibilities for reaching the furthest corners of the earth. In his message for today, our Holy Father wrote: “Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level. Yet the recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them all the more important for a fruitful priestly ministry.” In the light of the Year for Priests, the Holy Father addressed the need for the pastoral presence of priests in cyberspace. In as much as “All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ”, they have to respond to the challenge of preaching the gospel amidst the cultural shifts of the present. Priests must make use of new communications technologies: “Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.” “Priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different ‘voices’ provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.” (Responding to this challenge of the Holy Father, I am now maintaining a blog which you might want to visit. Just type “sense of the sacred. blogspot” in your search engines.) “Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ.” However, the Pope also reminds us that “priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ.”

“God’s loving care for all people in Christ must be expressed in the digital world not simply as an artifact from the past, or a learned theory, but as something concrete, present and engaging. Our pastoral presence in that world must thus serve to show our contemporaries, especially the many people in our day who experience uncertainty and confusion, ‘that God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another’ (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2009).” By being present in the Web, we “can thus help the men and women of our digital age to sense the Lord’s presence, to grow in expectation and hope, and to draw near to the Word of God which offers salvation and fosters an integral human development. In this way the Word can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different ‘highways’ that form ‘cyberspace’, and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own. Thanks to the new communications media, the Lord can walk the streets of our cities and, stopping before the threshold of our homes and our hearts, say once more: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me’ (Rev 3:20).”

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