Stories as Spiritual Lungs of a Continent: 15 Adaptations of Pope Francis’ 54th World Communications’ Day Message for Africa

1. There is no Continent of the world that Pope Francis’ choice of the theme of storytelling for the 54th World Communications’ Day Message which was given in Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 24 January 2020, Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales finds expression like Africa where the story-telling matrix is employed as a purveyor of truth and morals – Since as a story-telling people children often gather at the family compound or village square for tales by the moonlight in a typical African setting where the moon brings joy, light and energy to the community, we need to invest heavily in digital storytelling formats so that those stories of yesteryears can be retold in modern catechism/catechises through VCDs/DVDs or Cinema and Digital television screens. 

2. In a Continent is badly battered by years of colonialism, neo-colonialism/political shenanigans, militarism and exploitation of resources, the Holy Father’s message to avoid stories that “tear down” and strive for those which “build up” towards helping us to rediscover our roots and the strength to move forward together is key. 

3. The 54th World Communications’ Day Message reminds us about the critical place of forging universal bonds of unity. This is why it read it part: “We need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us. A narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze. A narrative that can tell us that we are part of a living and interconnected tapestry. A narrative that can reveal the interweaving of the threads which connect us to one another.”  

4. Philosophic sagacity unveils the huge story-telling capacity of African peoples which further helps us to weave our stories from birth through childhood, adolescence, days of youthfulness, adulthood and old age to death to shape our convictions or behaviours towards understanding and communicating “who we are.” 

5. The Pontiff made the point that stories “give us not only the word textile but also text” to weave the thread of our “heroes’” narratives and ours as well, perfectly – This is a wakeup call for the people of Africa to remember their everyday heroes of the faith like Saints Felicity, Perpetua, Charles Lwanga, Kizito and our Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi amongst others too numerous to mention who were driven by the force of love which made them courageous in the face death so that “we can find reasons to heroically face the challenges of life.” 

6. By stating that “since the very beginning, our story has been threatened – evil snakes its way through history,” the Pope sets out to state that “Not all stories are good stories” – In this part of the world that is stereotyped as Savage, Dark Continent and further maligned by the lens of the international media with stories of war, hunger/malnourished children and disease, the Bishop of Rome draws attention to the dangers of crass objectification and dangerous consumerism which convinces “us that to be happy we continually need to gain, possess and consume.”

7. The message urges us to also weave human history in a way that promotes human dignity. Francis decried that: “Often on communication platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society…” 

8. The point about “destructive and provocative stories” mentioned above calls us to beware of what I describe as “The Danger of Multiple Stories” – a situation where a single story is written differently by various reporters and the reader is left confused and misinformed about the truth even as humanity is fragmented. On this Pope Francis says: “By patching together bits of unverified information, repeating banal and deceptively persuasive arguments, sending strident and hateful messages, we do not help to weave human history, but instead strip others of their dignity.”

9. By stating that “whereas the stories employed for exploitation and power have a short lifespan, a good story can transcend the confines of space and time. Centuries later, it remains timely, for it nourishes life,” the Vicar of Christ implies that all media professionals should ensure that they feed the public with only stories which follow the journalistic principles of objectivity, fairness and balance. 

10. Like a Master-class journalist, the Pope lamented about an age where falsification has reached a sophisticated and exponential level of what he described as “deep fake” while prescribing that: “We need the wisdom to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need the courage to reject false and evil stories. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread amid today’s many troubles. We need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life.”

11. The crescendo of the message was where he referred to the Sacred Scripture as “a Story of stories” wherein God, who is the narrator or “Super-story-teller” – (my coinage) enters into a free dialogue with his creatures so as “to continue to weave the ‘wonderful’ mystery that [they] are.”

12. Like a skilful artist, the Successor of Peter refers to the Bible as “the [greatest] love story between God and humanity” which has Jesus at the centre who invites men and women of every generation “to recount and commit to memory the most significant episodes of this Story of stories, those that best communicate its meaning.”

13. He makes the point that through Jesus, who used earthly stories with heavenly, “God has become personally woven into our humanity, and so has given us a new way of weaving our stories.”

14. The 54th Communications’ Day Message merged the vertical and horizontal dimensions of love to remind us that amidst the current Coronavirus pandemic, we ought to make Jesus’ love practical. The Pontiff captures it more beautifully when he notes: “With the gaze of the great storyteller – the only one who has the ultimate point of view – we can then approach the other characters, our brothers and sisters, who are with us as actors in today’s story.”

15. In conclusion, he urges us to “entrust ourselves to a woman who knit together in her womb the humanity of God and, the Gospel tells us, wove together the events of her life” by asking the “Woman of the Spirit” and “Mother of Trust” who knew how to untie the knots of life with the gentle strength of love to show how to live together and “build stories of peace, stories that point to the future.” – Happy 54th World Communications’ Day!

Fr. Dyikuk is the Communications’ Director of Bauchi Diocese, Editor – Caritas Newspaper, Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.   

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