Message for the World Communications Day

David Fernández Alonso-January 31, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes

"Come and see" (Jn 1,46). Communicate by meeting people where they are and as they are.

Dear brothers and sisters:

The invitation to "go and see" that accompanies Jesus' first exciting encounters with his disciples is also the method of all authentic human communication. In order to be able to relate the truth of life that becomes history (cf. Message for the 54th World Communications DayWe need to get out of the comfortable presumption of "as is already known" and get going, go and see, be with people, listen to them, pick up the suggestions of reality, which will always surprise us in every aspect. "Open your eyes wide to what you see and let the bowl of your hands be filled with wisdom and freshness, so that others can touch the miracle of pulsating life when they read you," Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido advised his fellow journalists. I wish, therefore, to dedicate this year's Message to the call to "come and see", as a suggestion for every communicative expression that wants to be limpid and honest: in the editorial office of a newspaper as in the world of the web, in the ordinary preaching of the Church as in political or social communication. "Come and see" is the way in which the Christian faith has been communicated, starting from the first encounters on the banks of the Jordan River and the Lake of Galilee.

Wearing out the soles of shoes

Let's think about the great issue of information. Attentive opinions have long lamented the risk of a flattening of "photocopy newspapers" or radio and television newscasts and web pages that are substantially the same, where the genre of investigation and reporting lose space and quality to the benefit of pre-packaged information, "palace", self-referential, which is less and less capable of intercepting the truth of things and the concrete life of people, and no longer knows how to pick up neither the most serious social phenomena nor the positive energies emanating from the grassroots of society. The crisis of the publishing sector can lead to information built in the editorial offices, in front of the computer, on agency terminals, on social networks, without ever going out into the street, without "wearing out the soles of our shoes", without meeting people to look for stories or to verify by sight certain situations. If we do not open ourselves to the encounter, we will remain external spectators, despite the technological innovations that have the ability to put us in front of an augmented reality in which we seem to be immersed. Every tool is useful and valuable only if it pushes us to go and see the reality that we would otherwise not know, if it networks knowledge that would otherwise not circulate, if it allows encounters that would otherwise not occur.

These chronicle details in the Gospel

To the first disciples who wanted to know him, after the baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus replied, "Come and see" (Jn 1:39), inviting them to live their relationship with him. More than half a century later, when John, a very old man, writes his Gospel, he recalls some "chronicle" details that reveal his presence there and the impact that experience had on his life: "It was about the tenth hour," he notes, that is, four o'clock in the afternoon (cf. v. 39). The day after," John recounts again, "Philip tells Nathanael of his encounter with the Messiah. His friend is skeptical: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?". Philip does not try to convince him with reasoning: "Come and see," he tells him (cf. vv. 45-46). Nathanael goes and sees, and from that moment his life changes. Christian faith begins in this way. And it is communicated in this way: as a direct knowledge, born of experience, not hearsay. "We no longer believe because of what you told us, but because we ourselves have heard it," the people say to the Samaritan woman, after Jesus stopped in her village (cf. Jn 4,39-42). The "come and see" is the simplest method to know a reality. It is the most honest verification of any announcement, because in order to know it is necessary to meet, to allow the one in front of me to speak to me, to let his testimony reach me.

Thanks to the courage of so many journalists

Journalism, too, as an account of reality, requires the ability to go where no one else goes: a movement and a desire to see. A curiosity, an openness, a passion. Thanks to the courage and commitment of so many professionals - journalists, cameramen, cameramen, editors, directors who often work at great risk - today we know, for example, the difficult conditions of persecuted minorities in various parts of the world; the countless abuses and injustices against the poor and against creation that have been denounced; the many forgotten wars that have been told. It would be a loss not only for information, but for society as a whole and for democracy if these voices were to disappear: an impoverishment for our humanity.

Numerous realities of the planet, even more so in this time of pandemic, invite the world of communication to "go and see". There is a risk of recounting the pandemic, and each crisis, only through the eyes of the richest world, of "double counting". Let us think of the question of vaccines, as of medical care in general, of the risk of exclusion of the most destitute populations; who will tell us about the wait for a cure in the poorest peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Thus, social and economic differences at the planetary level are likely to determine the order of distribution of COVID vaccines. With the poor always last and the right to health for all, affirmed as a principle, emptied of its real value. But also in the world of the most fortunate, the social drama of families who have quickly fallen into poverty is largely hidden: the people who, overcoming their shame, queue up in front of Caritas centers to receive a food parcel are hurt and do not make the news.

Opportunities and insidiousness on the web

The web, with its countless social expressions, can multiply the capacity to tell and share: so many eyes open on the world, a continuous flow of images and testimonies. Digital technology gives us the possibility of first-hand and timely information, sometimes very useful: think of certain emergencies in which the first news and even the first communications of service to the populations travel precisely on the web. It is a formidable tool that makes us all responsible as users and consumers. We can all potentially become witnesses of events that would otherwise be overlooked by the traditional media, make our civil contribution, make more stories emerge, even positive ones. Thanks to the network we have the possibility to tell what we see, what happens in front of our eyes, to share testimonies. 

But the risks of uncontrolled social communication have become evident to everyone. We have long since discovered how news and images are easy to manipulate, for a myriad of reasons, sometimes just for banal narcissism. This critical awareness does not lead us to demonize the instrument, but to a greater capacity for discernment and a more mature sense of responsibility, both when disseminating and receiving content. We are all responsible for the communication we do, for the information we provide, for the control we can exercise together over false news, unmasking it. We are all called to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.

Nothing replaces seeing in person

In communication, nothing can completely replace seeing in person. Some things can be learned only through experience. One does not communicate, in fact, only with words, but with the eyes, with the tone of the voice, with gestures. The strong attraction that Jesus exercised on those who met him depended on the truth of his preaching, but the effectiveness of what he said was inseparable from his look, his attitudes and also his silences. The disciples did not only listen to his words, they watched him speak. In fact, in him - the Logos incarnate - the Word became a Face, the invisible God allowed himself to be seen, heard and touched, as John himself writes (cf. 1 Jn 1,1-3). The word is effective only if it is "seen", only if it involves you in an experience, in a dialogue. For this reason the "come and see" was and is essential. 

Let us think of how much empty eloquence also abounds in our time, in every sphere of public life, in commerce as well as in politics. "He knows how to talk endlessly and say nothing. His reasons are two grains of wheat in two bushels of straw. One must search all day long to find them, and when they are found, they are not worth the search." The biting words of the English playwright also apply to our Christian communicators. The good news of the Gospel spread throughout the world thanks to person-to-person, heart-to-heart encounters. Men and women who accepted the same invitation: "Come and see", and were impressed by the "plus" of humanity that was transparent in their gaze, in the words and gestures of people who bore witness to Jesus Christ. All the instruments are important and that great communicator called Paul of Tarsus would have used e-mail and social network messages; but it was his faith, his hope and his charity that impressed the contemporaries who listened to him preach and had the good fortune to spend time with him, to see him during an assembly or in a one-to-one talk. They verified, seeing him in action in the places where he was, how true and fruitful for life was the proclamation of salvation of which he was the bearer by the grace of God. And also wherever this collaborator of God could not be found in person, his way of living in Christ was witnessed by the disciples he sent (cf. 1 Co 4,17).

"In our hands are books, in our eyes are deeds," said St. Augustine, exhorting us to find in reality the fulfillment of the prophecies present in the Sacred Scriptures. Thus, the Gospel is repeated today every time we receive the limpid testimony of people whose lives have been changed by their encounter with Jesus. For more than two thousand years, a chain of encounters has been communicating the fascination of the Christian adventure. The challenge that awaits us, therefore, is to communicate by meeting people where they are and as they are.

Lord, teach us to go out of ourselves, 
and to set us on the road to the search for truth.

Teach us to go and see,
teach us to listen,
not to cultivate prejudices,
not to jump to conclusions.

Teach us to go where no one wants to go,
to take the time to understand,
to pay attention to the essentials,
not to let ourselves be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish the deceptive appearance from the truth.

Give us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in the world. 
and the honesty to tell what we have seen.

Rome, St. John Lateran, January 23, 2021, Vigil of the Memory of St. Francis de Sales.


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