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Trust and hope for history

As is customary on the feast of the archangels, yesterday the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication announced the theme of the next World Day of Social Communications, to be celebrated on May 28, 2017.

With reference to a core biblical belief – “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isa 43:5) – the next annual celebration will focus on “Communicating Hope and Trust in Our Time.”  (The actual papal message will be published on January 24, 2017.)

Interestingly, the notification from the Secretariat introduces a subtle change to the name of this event.  Apparently, it’s now the World Day of Social Communications, which rightly acknowledges the powerful impact of the world’s prevailing digital environment.

That impact, according to the announcement, can nevertheless be negative.  The opening line of the theme discloses the sad reality:  “Numbness of conscience or letting desperation get the better of us are two possible ‘diseases’ that our current communication system can cause.”

The Secretariat goes on to explain that our consciences can be “cauterised” by the distance between media connections and actual contact when it comes to the reality of human need, a gap that hides “the complexity of the dramas faced by mean and women.”  Beyond ignorance, today’s media might also facilitate a sense of hopelessness, particularly when the real dangers and fears of life are communicated primarily as some sort of “spectacle.”

The timing of this theme couldn’t be better.  Trending now is the link between social communications and personal or social dis-ease.

Recent research points to overuse of the Internet as leaving young people “more at risk of mental health problems.”  In his recently published book entitled The End of Absence, Michael Harris worries that in a world of constant connection we “lose the ability to decide for ourselves what we think about who we are.”  And who we are may be someone who “used to be a human being” – as Andrew Sullivan suggests in his autobiographical essay recently in New York Magazine.  Sullivan posits that social communications have created an “epidemic of distraction” that threatens our very souls, and he concludes that “if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.”

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Hence the need for worldwide awareness of the promise and peril of social communications.  The Vatican’s engagement with this contemporary environment brings the Church’s presence into this vital realm … in the hope of preserving our souls.

As the 2017 theme suggests, a divine presence does remain amid the tumultuous din of the digital world.  An emphasis on the vertical or transcendent dimension is not to be ignored.  It’s becomes (again) Good News for our lives, when we recognize “how (God) too, through the dramatic scenario of this world, is writing the history of salvation.”

Ultimately, that’s our message to tell, in stories and images that make the most of today’s means of social communications.  Clearly, a message of “trust and hope for history” is one that our world still needs to hear.  Plan ahead to join us on May 24, 2017 at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary for the annual John Cardinal Foley Symposium when we share perspectives on this timely theme.

illustrations by Kim Dong-kyu from nymag.com

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