CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — Pope Francis’ dream for the Catholic Church is to not only be a teacher but also a mother “caressing her children with compassion,” the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications told members of the Catholic media.
“The church is not only an institution but a church that is able to go around and walk with humanity, with the men and women of today,” said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli said in a talk at the 2014 Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte June 19.
Pope Francis feels the greatest challenge for the church today is “to become mother,” he said, and the other challenge is to figure out “how to express in our media the maternity of the church.”
“We can be very much correct and faithful to doctrine, but people face so much difficulty to stay in this church. The doors must be open for all to enter regardless of their standing in life,” the archbishop said, and like any mother, the church might not always like her children’s behavior but she still loves them.
Archbishop Celli spoke at a general session on the second day of the annual gathering of members of the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals.
The conference was hosted by the Diocese of Charlotte and its news outlet, the Catholic News Herald, and drew more than 200 reporters, editors, communication directors and others serving in Catholic media across the U.S. and Canada.
The “ever-changing dynamics, trends and ways of working in the field of communication … are profound and rapid. … It is difficult to know where things are going,” Archbishop Celli said.
“We can, however, share our experiences and expertise in order to become more attentive, knowledgeable and flexible so as to respond better to our calling as church communicators, who share the Gospel message through our personal and professional lives,” he said.
He cited a new survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that shows, among other things, 37 percent of respondents said they access news from a smartphone every week; social networking sites are key drivers in disseminating information, especially Facebook and Twitter; newer platforms are emerging, such as Google Plus and WhatsApp; and there is an ever-widening gap in the ways young people engage with media and news compared to their parents or grandparents.
The survey also showed that respondents were inclined to trust individual journalists more than the organizations or the institutions for which they work, he said.
“The key question for Catholic media professionals is to consider how best we can be present in this emerging digital arena,” Archbishop Celli said.
Pope Francis recognizes “the extraordinary potential for good which digital media can have in bringing people closer together, he said, but the pope “also stresses that communication should always be understood as a human rather than a technological achievement and that social networks are ultimately constituted by people rather than wires or cables.”
“Notwithstanding, the ‘newness’ or ‘difference’ of the digital arena, the church must endeavor to be present if the word of God is to encounter people fully in this dimension of their lives,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Celli also stressed the need to keep the tone of debates on social media civil and charitable, because too often the tone “can be very critical or very negative.”
Quoting Pope Francis, he said: “We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.”
The archbishop said that Pope Benedict XVI shared the same sentiment when he said: “The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation.”
In the past 10 years, the Vatican has expanded its media efforts beyond its newspaper, radio and TV outlets and website in response to “massive changes in the media landscape and the way people communicate and relate” and to have an effective presence in the digital world.
The Vatican has had a YouTube channel since 2009. The web portal www.news.va was started in 2011. The Vatican launched the mobile and tablet version of news.va called “The Pope App” in 2013; an updated version is being released sometime in July.
As more new technologies emerge, church communications must continue to adapt, Archbishop Celli said, and he urged the Catholic communicators to bring fresh energy and imagination to their work.
He ended his talk with a favorite story about a musician who went from village to village riding his donkey and carrying his harp. One day thieves attacked him, took the donkey and harp, and left him injured in the road. Passers-by asked him what happened.
“He told them the thieves stole his donkey and his harp but they could not steal ‘the music from my heart.’ What we have to communicate is the music we are keeping in our heart,” Archbishop Celli said. “People will be enchanted only by the music of the heart.”