I am happy to be able to pass on my greetings by means of this message to the Salesian World Advisory Body for Social Communications, meeting these days. I cannot take part because at the same time I find myself in Kenya leading a Retreat for Provincials and Rectors from English-speaking Africa. In the decidedly missionary and spiritual climate of these days, then, I find myself near to you in mind, affection and in prayer.
Speaking about Social Communications is so important that my predecessors wrote a Circular Letter to the Congregation on the theme. It could not be otherwise, knowing how much our beloved Don Bosco was truly in the forefront in this field. Perhaps I will write similarly. In the meantime I will take the opportunity offered me to say something to you.
The Universal Church has recently recorded the fortieth anniversary of the conciliar decree Inter mirifica, published 3rd December 1963. The Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, held in Rome from 8th to 12th March last, has reviewed the forty years and pointed out an outline of the development of the Church’s commitment to this new areopagus. The results of this important meeting of Cardinals, Bishops and others responsible for social communications were given to the Holy Father who, as has been announced, will publish an Apostolic Letter on the theme.
As Salesians, we are on the same wavelength as the Church in the journey it has made over these years, we share the concerns and hopes, and we work with all our intelligence and commitment together with the Church towards the new frontiers that the Council and the Bishops and Pastors indicate (Cf. Cristifideles laici, 44).
Above all we should go back to studying the three documents in which the Church has outlined its magna carta for ecclesial communications and for the presence of Catholics in the new areopagus of the Media.
n The decree Inter mirifica was the point of departure in 1963. For the first time in two thousand years of history in the Christian community a Council offered a theological reading of the phenomenon of modern communication and wrote the word “communication” into the agenda of the Universal Church and that of particular Churches.
After the publication of that decree, the World Day of Social Communication became an annual appointment with communication professionals and a renewed awareness-raising of problems and challenges that media communications poses for mankind and for ecclesial communities.
The thirty messages of the Supreme Pontiffs for the World Day of Social Communication have accompanied the route taken by particular Churches in new mission territories and have offered a guide for Christian activity in the face of the many problems that Social Communications poses, as well as the resources it offers: development of people, the young, family, evangelisation… .
As a Congregation we would like to commit ourselves to living, together with the young and our various co-workers, this World Day and to concerning ourselves with the theme that it proposes. They are all of huge interest for our educational and pastoral activity.
n The instruction which followed, Communio et progressio in 1971, completed the theological and pastoral picture of the Church’s vision concerning the means of Social Communication. It offered an accurate discernment on what has happened and is happening in the human family through the means of Social Communication. Never has mankind been in immediate and universal communication of the kind that has occurred since the ether has been filled with radio and television communications, and now the Internet. At the origins of this phenomenon the believer is aware of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the ministry of Christ the perfect communicator, the mystery of the Church which is at the same time communion and communication.
On the basis of the teaching of the Universal Magisterium, individual Bishops and particular Churches have given depth to what we can define as the theology and pastoral understanding of communication. The then Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo M. Martini, had a great influence on Catholic thinking through his two pastoral letters, Effatà and Il lembo del mantello in 1991 and 1992.
It is imperative for us Salesians of the 21st Century to acquire a way of thinking about communication which is in accordance with the theological thinking of the Church. This should be more than just a secondary issue in the formation of young confreres, as well as a topic for ongoing formation.
n The third intervention from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was the instruction Aetatis novae in 1992. In it we find highlighted the fact that the Church today is not only confronted with new means and technologies, but with the new communications culture. We see its effects on the young; and it is without doubt, in fact, that today’s youth are marked by life models, by fashions, behaviours, and information furnished by the media. This occurs at world level: the media are the first to construct globalisation. If the Church is called to «integrate the Gospel and the new culture of media» , we educators are equally called to “integrate” educational wisdom, received values, models of assimilated behaviour, the preventive system, with the “new world” represented and carried through the mass media. This is an epochal challenge that cannot be resolved in terms of censure and control, but in active terms of education, citizenship, ethical values.
Social Communication is the new areopagus calling today’s apostle to a new kind of audacity and adaptiveness . And it likewise calls on the educator. We are not talking about being “modern” such that our house becomes a media centre or we become confident in the use of new technologies; we are talking about how to acquire a deeper understanding of what is happening around us and to the young, by means also of the media, and knowing how to mature the required “policy” choices so as not to be excluded from the development of history.
The Italian Bishops’ Assembly in May this year approved the new Directory for Social Communications in Italy, and our confreres from the UPS helped in its drawing up . As well as a reading of the phenomenon of our times and a deepening of the theological and pastoral motives which urge on the Church in this area of communications, the Directory contains important indications for renewal of catechesis and education. It is necessary that catechesis acquires the new languages of religious communication and that education knows how to involve itself with critical and creative formation of the Social Communications users.
The Italian provinces should be committed to a study and implementation of the Directory's guidelines. Other provinces should do similarly in connection with their local Churches and respective continental areas. I invite all confreres to be attentive, solicitous, work along with, breathe with the Church and walk beside mankind and believers in our own time.
The beginnings of the Institute for Social Communication in our Pontifical Salesian University came about through a decision of the General Council following the 1984 Chapter, as something to be connected with the centenary of Don Bosco’s death in 1988 and as a making present today of our dear Father’s charism, he who had been such a great communicator and educator.
The Congregation for Catholic Education interpreted it this way when it issued the decree of approval, dated 17th December 1988, making it a gift of the centenary year. Fr. Egidio Viganò on 8th December 1989 underlined this when the new Institute was solemnly inaugurated: «We are convinced that with the creation of ISCOS – which joins other Catholic institutions already in place or about to come into existence – we are playing an important card, even if a humble one, in the evangelisation of young people and ordinary folk: helping to give growth to the ability to communicate with modernity, to dialogue effectively, with humankind today» .
From this new foundation the Congregation expects the highest level of formation of educators and communicators in the Salesian Family and courageous research in the field of Social Communications, with attention give to theological and pastoral understanding of Social Communications itself, to the study of social theories of media, to trying out methods of education to media, to the new languages of catechesis and religious communication, to the production of religious and educational programmes.
Today ISCOS is a Faculty; the wise and brave decision to have a Faculty of Sciences of Social Communication in our University, followed by other faculties in the different university centres belonging to IUS, indicates our commitment to preparing personnel in the Congregation and the Salesian Family who are up to this new task. It is evident that the support form a Faculty as relevant as this one demands collaboration and co-responsibility from the whole Congregation, and I appeal for this here.
Our 25th General Chapter, considering the growing importance of the sector of communication in the context of the Salesian Congregation’s activities, in the spirit of art. 6 and 43 of the Constitutions, which calls this «a significant field of activity which constitutes one of the apostolic priorities of the Salesian mission», has decided to have a General Councillor specifically and exclusively dedicated to Social Communication. He «has the task of animating the Congregation in this area. He promotes Salesian activity in the Social Communication sector and in particular coordinates at world level, the structures and centres for which the Congregation has responsibility in this field» (C. 137).
Following the Chapter, furthermore, in the Project of animation and government of the Rector Major and his Council, detailed attention has been given to this sector, indicating objectives, processes and interventions in four areas: overview, animation and formation, information, business-type activities. The Councillor for Communication is carrying our an organic and progressive work in this area with intelligence and determination. Your meeting during these days will contribute undoubtedly to giving a further push to realising the Six Year Plan.
The mass media represent an extraordinary resource in our time. An awareness has grown in the Church of the “gift” that the media are for the human family and for each human being. This is how we can interpret, for example, the title of the Magisterium’s contributions: Miranda prorsus (Pius XII, 1957), Inter mirifica (1963). Communio et progressio (1971), Aetatis novae (1992).
The media are, however, also a risk and a danger. The Pope emphasised this in his last message for the 38th World Day of Social Communication: The media in the family: a risk and a richness.
Control, limitations and prohibitions, however, are not a solution, as the magisterium has emphasised in its last message. To the “power” of the media we are called to add the “other power” of education, citizenship, ethical values, formation of leaders and Catholic professionals in Social Communication.
At this point I consider it important to invite you to go back and read the policy-proclaiming Letters of Fr. Egidio Viganò “Social Communications challenges us” and of Fr. Juan E. Vecchi “Let the deaf hear and the dumb speak”. I draw your attention then to some details.
n Media education has repeatedly been recommended by the Church (cf. Inter mirifica 15 - 16, Communio et progressio 107, Aetatis novae, 18). Our schools, parishes, oratory-youth centres must commit themselves to this new field of the educational mission. It is not a question of buying up technology or playing with the Internet, but competently taking up the new objectives of literacy and communicative competence, critical autonomy, exercise of citizenship inspired by values of personal dignity and social solidarity, beginning with those most in need. I ask that in the provinces, programmes are put into place for education to media and for formation of media educators.
n The formation of leaders is the second strategic point of our activity in the field of Social Communication. Leaders means Salesians in the first place. Little has been done up till now to put into place guidelines on the formation of future priests to [use of] instruments of Social Communication. The instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, published in 1986 in this regard , carried the signature of our own Card. Javierre. Our Faculty of the Sciences of Communication could help the Departments of Formation and Social Communication, together with the provinces, to study how to put into practice what the Ratio says about this essential dimension of the formation of the Salesian and of our co-workers. Provincials should then evaluate the putting into place of its requirements and form competent personnel.
n Our Social Communication works are a resource. It is a Salesian tradition to be committed to Publishing, the theatre, music, graphics, …, in a word in both old and new communication. Don Bosco gave us the example: “always in the vanguard of progress, and he would talk about publishing and printing” (MB XIX, 81). Our renewed Constitutions have put Social Communication amongst our “apostolic priorities” (C. 43). The panorama of our publishing houses, centres for audiovisual production, printed publications is impressive. We must ask ourselves however about the quality, cultural significance, the teamwork we can achieve; for example, a theological or teaching centre should be offering consultation and collaboration to the Social Communication’s works in a Province or Region.
We have to undergo a “pastoral conversion”. In these past ten years we have worked a lot, but now the Church and history are asking us for an even greater impulse in understanding our times and for a wiser and more courageous vision of our apostolate.
May Don Bosco give us light and courage to be able to be competent and credible educators, evangelisers and communicators, as demanded by our mission today.
P. Pascual Chávez V.