1. With fraternal greetings, we bring you 15 adaptations from Pope Francis’ 55th World Communications’ Day Message (WCDM) from an African pastoral context. You would recall that the message which was released by the Vatican on 23rd January 2021, the eve of the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists is titled “Come and See” (Jn. 1:46): Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are.” The message which suggests that seeing is one of best ways by which the Christian faith is communicated, speaks to the heart of authentic human communication.
2. In a society where the internet is separating people and destroying the erstwhile African communitarian spirit of Ubuntu which enabled extended family members to share banters together, Pope Francis insists that “we need to go and see them for ourselves, to spend time with people, to listen to their stories and to confront reality, which always in some way surprises us.”
3. The message disclosed that “the invitation to ‘come and see’ serves as an inspiration for all communication that is clear and honest “in the press, on the internet, in the Church’s daily preaching and in political or social communication” which deletes the rough lines of ethnic and religious biases as well as acrimony, tensions and crises which constitute the bane of many countries in Africa.
4. Since from the time of Apostles the Christian faith was communicated through “Come and see,” the Church in Africa must “get dirty” as Pope Francis would day by going after the stray sheep, young and vulnerable adults, the aged, sick, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees who need physical, spiritual and mental care so as to fully integrate them into society.
5. Faced with “the crisis of the publishing industry” which leads “to a reportage created in newsrooms, in front of personal or company computers and on social networks, without ever ‘hitting the streets,’ meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first hand,” we are charged to break new grounds by developing a personal encounter with the Lord like the Samaritans who did not relay on the testimony of the Samaritan woman but saw and heard it themselves (Cf. Jn. 4:39-42).
6. Media professional in Africa must be motivated by the code of conduct for journalists bearing in mind that: “Any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it motivates us to go out and see things that otherwise we would not know about, to post on the internet news that would not be available elsewhere, to allow for encounters that otherwise would never happen.”
7. Bearing in mind the heroic sacrifice of journalists who died on the fire-line, Pope Francis lauded the curiosity, openness, passion, courage and commitment of media workers while urging that journalism remains “an account of [a] reality…[which] “calls for an ability to go where no one else thinks of going: a readiness to set out and a desire to see.”
8. He further saluted press men and women without whose efforts no one would know the hardships encountered “by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars.”
9. In many African countries especially Nigeria and Uganda where democracy is on trial because the voice of the press seems muffled, the Pope emphasizes that: “It would be a loss not only for news reporting, but for society and for democracy as a whole, were those voices to fade away. Our entire human family would be impoverished.”
10. On the current global health crisis occasioned by COVID-19, the Pontiff again singled out the press for mention noting that they “keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa” while noting that they also keep us abreast with issues of social and economic differences in terms of distribution of anti-Covid vaccines.
11. The message emphasizes that “Thanks to the internet we have the opportunity to report what we see, what is taking place before our eyes, and to share it with others” and calls us to embrace the opportunities which digital technology offers such as countless social media expressions, great capacity for reporting and sharing, constant flooding of images and testimonies as well as timely first-hand information.
12. In a society where multiple stories seem to entrench a culture of hate speech and fake news, the Bishop of Rome stressed that we should not throw caution to the wind as there are hidden dangers on the web such as spreading of misinformation on social media and manipulation of news and images for sheer narcissism.
13. Instead of “demonizing the internet,” he invites us to be witnesses of the truth by going, seeing and sharing it responsibly through exerting control over fake news by exposing it and employing truth as “an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received.”
14. Because “In communications, nothing can ever completely replace seeing things in person,” whenever we commit to taking the gospel to the doorposts of the unconverted in Africa or elsewhere across the world, “the Gospel comes alive in our own day,” because of the “compelling witness of people whose lives have been changed by their encounter with Jesus.”
14. In conclusion, the Pope’s summation that “for two millennia, a chain of such encounters has communicated the attractiveness of the Christian adventure. The challenge that awaits us, then, is to communicate by encountering people, where they are and as they are” invites us to make the Church and the Pulpit mobile towards “smelling like the sheep” as he fondly says. Happy 54th World Communications’ Day!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.