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By Devin Watkins – Baltimore, USA

Jun 8 2023

As the Catholic Media Conference gets underway in the US city of Baltimore, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, urges Catholic communicators to draw inspiration from the unity and communion of the first disciples in their work.

The annual Catholic Media Conference kicked off in Baltimore, Maryland, on Wednesday, and saw several hundred reporters, social media managers, and editors gather in person and online to network and share their ideas for the future of Catholic-focused media.

Dr. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, offered a welcome address to the media professionals, most of whom hail from the United States. He was accompanied at the conference by Dr. Nataša Govekar, the Director of the Theological/Pastoral Department of the Dicastery.

Due to Pope Francis’ hospitalization earlier on Wednesday, Dr. Ruffini was unable to remain at the Catholic Media Conference and returned to Rome immediately following his speech.

Pentecost or Babel?

In his address, Dr. Ruffini recalled that the conference was taking place just a few days after the Solemnity of Pentecost, an event which broke the chains of fear that had bound the disciples after Jesus’ death and gave them the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim His Resurrection to the world.

However, noted Dr. Ruffini, our own age seems at times to bear greater resemblance to the confusion that followed the destruction of the Tower of Babel, as recounted in the Biblical book of Genesis. “It is as if everyone misunderstands each other, and then complains for having been misunderstood,” he said.

Mutual gift of self in media

Catholic media professionals, he urged, should therefore recall that the Church’s communication was born in response to the call of the Risen Christ.

“If we look at the Latin root of the term ‘communication’, we can detect that it combines two other words cum, together, and munus, gift,” said Dr. Ruffini. “This tells us that communication is above all a mutual gift of ourselves, a gift that comes from the relationship we establish with one another.”

Love and compassion, he added, were the universal language that made the early Christians recognizable to all and which made their gaze upon the world so different and attractive to others as to imprint “an indelible mark on it.”

“The early Christians were of ‘one heart and one soul’,” he said, “and so their communion also made their communication deeper, rooted in God.”

Communication as communion

Dr. Ruffini then turned his attention to the Church’s efforts to communicate well in our modern society.

He invited Catholic media professionals to cling to another word that has the same etymological root as communication: “communion”.

“Communion is what makes us members of one another. Communion is the secret of the Church’s communication,” he said.

The best journalism, he noted, has nothing to do with selling a product but rather with offering people a relationship and an opportunity to encounter people and their “unique and grace-filled stories.”

“Communicating in the Church therefore means rebuilding our communion, offering ourselves as an instrument of communication, bearing witness that we are one,” said Dr. Ruffini.”

Love must guide technological progress

The Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, which is Vatican News’ parent organization, went on to consider the technological aspect of modern media.

He recalled that technology and social media may have transformed our world in recent years, but noted that we are called to guide technological progress.

“We must guide technology with our hearts, which is what makes our intelligence unique, because our mission is carried out not only with our intellect, or our ability to connect knowledge, but also with our ability to love.”

Dr. Ruffini pointed to his Dicastery’s recently-released document entitled “Towards Full Presence: A Pastoral Reflection on Social Media Engagement”.

He said the document offers a theological and pastoral reflection to help guide the Church’s use and interaction with social media in a considered manner, rather than merely handing editorial power to the algorithms of the corporations that run social media.

“The algorithm does not consider fragility,” said Dr. Ruffini. “Love however is born from fragility, born from being affected by another’s pain, by their emotion. This has also been said poetically about God: God’s omnipotence, His perfection, is nevertheless not invulnerable. God is vulnerable: God weeps, God suffers. The algorithm does not.”

Creativity of professionals animated by the Spirit

In conclusion, Dr. Ruffini invited Catholic media professionals to look “beyond” the technological aspects of the industry and its market-oriented drive for engagement numbers and profit.

“What we need is the humble and patient creativity of those who do not seek the fireworks of a single moment, but a faithful relationship, animated by the Spirit that unites us,” he concluded.

“The goal toward which our Catholic communication must strive is communion.” – Vatican News