Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day calls upon the faithful to take a break from constant tweeting, Googling and Facebooking in order to listen to others and understand ourselves better.
The pope’s theme for this year’s World Communications Day, which will occur on May 20, is “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization” and calls upon the Church to help people find safe havens of silence from the constant techno-chatter that fills the lives of the faithful.
Not that he believes social media is an enemy of calm and quiet. Rather, they can lead people into “virtual sanctuaries” that offer them silent reflection, thoughtful dialogue and true meaning in life, he says.
But too much communication can cause problems.
“Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.”
Instead, “attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God,” he said.
Even brief tweets can be rich in meaning when used to build up others rather than to spam or gossip.
“In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives,” he said.
The Catholic News Service reports that at a news conference on the message, which was released yesterday on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said there is a huge difference between a “semantic silence” that can be rich in or bolster meaning versus “keeping quiet” and ignoring the realty.
“There are situations where I must speak up,” he said, because otherwise “my silence would be a betrayal,” especially when witnessing injustice.
The pope’s message calls for the kind of silence that doesn’t alienate people, but leads them to a greater awareness and sensitivity to others and their needs.
Words without reflection, and silence without meaning, result in confusion, coldness and communication breakdown, the pope said.
True silence builds meaning, clarity and creativity since “we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth” and people have the time to choose how to best express themselves, he said.
Listening to others requires silence, and “we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested,” he said.
Silence also allows people to sift through, process, and evaluate the information they are being bombarded with to determine what’s important and what isn’t. This leads to being able to “share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge.”
He once again underlined the importance of digital media, as he has done in previous Communications Day messages, saying that search engines and social networks help people in their thirst for answers and truth.
Because many people launch Web searchers in search of the deepest meanings of life, it is important for the church “to affirm those who ask these questions and open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection,” he said.
Another benefit of silence is that it promotes evangelization.
“If God speaks to us even in silence, we, in turn, discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God,” he said.
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The complete text of the pope’s message in English is available online.