Pope, the great communicator

  • May 21, 2009
{mosimage}In an age of mass media and instant communication, Archbishop Thomas Collins recently did something rather radical.

Rather than send an e-mail or a tweet, instead of an update on Facebook or an upload on YouTube, Collins ventured into Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto and spoke directly to some 1,000 enthusiastic pilgrims.  They had gathered for an event called St. Paul in the Square, several hours of outdoor prayer and reflection that was highlighted by Collins giving a talk and leading the throng in Lectio Divina.

This came on the heels of the successful Holy Land pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI, where, in a series of outdoor events and sermons, he began to rebuild strained relations with Muslims and Jews, and offered encouragement and support to the area’s beleaguered Christians.

Large, outdoor gatherings are nothing new to the church, of course. Two-thousand years ago, Christianity was founded on open-air sermons delivered by Christ and His disciples.

But there is an inclination today to diminish such personal encounters in favour of the impersonal communication tools of modern technology. For example, the Vatican celebrated World Communications Day by launching a new web site, www.pope2you.net , directed at Catholic youth. The site allows users to obtain Vatican updates through web-based applications such as iPhone and Facebook, and also links to its YouTube pages.

“We must take advantage of what new technologies are offering us,” said Archbishop Claudio Celli of the Pontifical Council of Social Communication.

The church, historically, has not always walked among the world’s most progressive institutions, but it has consistently understood the importance of communication. Beginning with catacomb paintings, stained glass windows and frescoes, through translations and transcriptions of the early Bible and, following invention of the Guttenberg press, mass printings of the Bible and other religious literature, the church has embraced the communication tools of the day.

Consider this excerpt from a newspaper editorial: “Few events in the history of the world can compare with the profound impact the Holy Roman See made during his address directed to the entire planet . . . This is a miracle of science, and no less a miracle of faith.”

Those words could have applied to the Vatican launch of its YouTube video web site last January, but they were written Feb. 12, 1931 by the New York Herald in praise of the first-ever address from Vatican Radio, delivered by Pope Pius XII. That foray into “new media” was launched by the father of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and the event made history when the Pope’s address, filmed by Paramount News, included a live soundtrack, a cinema first.

But despite the rapid and unceasing evolution of communication tools, we have been reminded by Collins and Pope Benedict that there remains an unwavering appreciation for the oldest form of communication. Technology is grand but it is no replacement for direct human interaction.

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