Citizen John Paul II

I’m slowly getting back into the groove after a long, feng shui sort of holiday weekend. One of the items I cleaned up was an article that I’d clipped to my bulletin board but had never read. The article contained excerpts from a letter written by Pope John Paul II not long before his death, in which he outlined some thoughts that sound like an endorsement of citizen media. I clipped the article from The Guild Reporter, the official paper of the Newspaper Guild (union), of which I am a member. This morning I read the entire papal commentary, in which John Paul II advanced a good news, bad news message about the power and reach of modern media. “The world of communications … is capable of unifying humanity and transforming it into — as it is commonly referred to — a global village,” he wrote, adding: “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.” But what if the media propagate values inimical to religious faith — or to faith of any sort? “In an age such as ours,” wrote the deceased pope, “there exists the conviction that the time of certainties is irretrievably past. Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting.” Given this likelihood that mass media will be, at best, indifferent to those who would preach faith, Pope John Paul II urged “individuals in the Church community particularly gifted with talent to work in the media.”Elsewhere he writes, “Do not be afraid of new technologies! … The Internet not only provides resources for more information, but habituates persons to interactive communication.” In addition to urging people to make their own media, the papal letter calls “attention to the subject of media access … If the communications media are a good destined for all humanity, then ever-new means must be found — including recourse to opportune legislative measures — to make possible a true participation in their management by all.” Interesting notions, and remarkably like other secular critiques of media. Of course this was not a secular critique but an unabashed exhortation to Catholics to use media to spread their faith. Pope John Paul II issued his letter on January, 24, 2005, on the feast of Saint Francis de Sales who, I learned, used the newly-minted printing press to issue pamphlets in defense of church beliefs in the 16th century, thus earning the designation of the patron saint of journalists.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media