By Verghese V Joseph
Indian Catholic Matters
On January 24 this year, Holy Father, in his message for the 56th World Day of Social Communications, drew attention to theme “Listen,” which is a synodality for genuine dialogue. This theme follows a logical path of Pope Francis’ last year’s theme on “Come and See” on discovering and experiencing the ground reality.
Aligning with Holy Father’s vision, SIGNIS Asia Assembly 2022 held a three-day online webinar beginning July 12 that featured presentations from experts from across Asia and beyond on the theme, ‘Listening with the ear of the heart,’ taken from Romans 10:17, “Faith comes through listening”. The sessions helped participants and delegates reflect upon what it takes to be a listener.
The webinar explored ways and means to listen to others to make human existence meaningful on earth.
The Welcome Address was presented by Fr. Joseph Anucha Chayadej, President, SIGNIS Asia.
The sessions was well helmed by Dr. Magimai Pragasam, Vice President, SIGNIS Asia Assembly Webinar Coordinator, who also introduced the speakers, theme sessions and moderated the discussions as well.
In his keynote presentation on ‘Let us Listen with the Ear of the Heart’ – A Call by Pope Francis, Dr. Peter Rachada Monthienvichienchai, founding member and Executive Director of LiCAS.news, emphasised that “Listening is saying something. From a media perspective, for him, it means going beyond what Reuters, AP or even AFP news agencies can offer for their readers.”
Dr Peter cited an example of how listening to stories related by children who worked in a gold mine under very challenging and demeaning conditions had a far greater impact than a traditional journalistic report. His journey has been to talk about how ordinary people lead extraordinary lives. He also dwelt on five quotes of American celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian Anthony Michael Bourdain that highlight the plight of the marginalized and called out the rich and powerful.
Rev. (Dr.) Varghese Rozario, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore, Chennai, India, in his response to the keynote address, agreed to Dr. Peter’s observation, “We are losing the ability to listen to those in front of us, both in the normal course every relationships and when debating the most important issues of civil life.” Another challenge, he said Dr Peter rightly pointed out was in the words of Pope Francis: “One of the biggest problems in the world today is loneliness. In our life we often meet with people who ask a bit of our time, to listen to them.”
Dr Varghese concluded that “Listening can be a greater healing process.”
The next session ‘Voices of Young People from Asia’ by young and spirited speakers forcefully brought their plea to be heard. To love is to listen was their appeal. Ms. Angeline Moraga from Philippines; Mr. Fransiscus Borgia Edgar from Indonesia; Ms. Natsuki Yamamoto from Japan and school student Ms. Philabet Rynjah from India lit up their respective sessions by offering animated and very thoughtful insights.
Mary Angeline Moraga in her talk on ‘Do People Listen to us?’ dwelt on how difficult it is to distinguish in this society who’s who. “Some listen selectively, some listen without comprehending. In addition, some listen with their hearts. Some stay in silence and do not speak but wish to be listened to.”
Mary also raised important questions such as “why are young people silent?” or “why are they speaking up?” “It’s essential to understand where people are coming from,” she said. Mary urged youngsters to go out, face the real world, and listen to the things that matter. “Let us be the people who listen,” she implored.
Ms. Natsuki Yamamoto gave a historical perspective of how St. Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. People at that time listened to the word of God from Xavier and instantly accepted Christianity. In spite of the persecution of Christianity by the administration, Christianity grew rapidly in Japan. “Naturally, a question may arise why Francis Xavier succeeded in preaching the Good news in a new land called Japan during the initial years. As I look back now, it is because the people listened to the word of God and voluntarily chose the new way of life,” she explained.
An interesting aspect Natsuki shared was that Churches in Japan are usually quiet, and meditative as if people are silently listening to the word of God or ‘treasuring all things in heart’ like mother Mary. “Interestingly, this image is not merely limited to church alone, but also to Buddhism and indigenous beliefs,” she added.
When Pope Francis visited Japan in 2019, he listened to everyone’s stories. Pope Francis showed an example of a listening church while listening keenly to the small children or the senior Jesuits.
Ms. Philabet Rynjah, a Class Xth Student, studying in Auxilium Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Nongthymmai, Shillong, Meghalaya – India, in her presentation on ‘Do People Listen to us?” said that post-COVID-19, many things have changed yet many have remained the same. She was of the firm belief that “Listening avoids misunderstandings and chaos and helps us as individuals to understand the other person’s opinion better.” Quoting Pope Francis, she said, “Listening is the first indispensable ingredient of dialogue and good communication.”
Philabet emphasised, “Often people think that we are the Future. We are not only the future of the world – we are also the Present of the world.” She ended her presentation relating an incident of Pope Francis. During his international trip to Mexico, while speaking to the young people of the city of Morelia, he said that when a friend finds him or herself in difficulty, it is necessary to stand beside them and listen: “Don’t say: ‘I have the solution for you’. Give them strength by your listening, that medicine which sadly is being forgotten: ‘the therapy of listening.’ What is needed is an “apostolate of the ear.”
Mr. Fransiscus Borgia Edgar highlighted how in these trying times, there’s a thin line that draws between criticism and hate speech. He questioned, “How can we listen to others when we can’t listen to ourselves?” He also shared 21st Century skills on communication to convey the message.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Jeyaraj SDB, Director, Don Bosco Institute of Psychological Services, India, in his presentation on Strategies to ‘Invite and engage’ with young people in building Communities of Peace, said that youth today should aim to become ambassadors of peace. He shared the ‘KAPI Paradigm’ that incorporates four key dimensions: Knowledge, Attitude, Practice, and Intervention.
According to him, the KAPI paradigm impacts the personal, interpersonal, and social facets of young people’s lives to create a ‘fraternal and peaceful world’. In this presentation, we shall focus on the interventions that will assist our young people to create a peaceful world.
In the session on ‘The unheard stories of underprivileged Asian Women and How can we listen to them?’, Ms. Cilete Liboro Co, as a former CEO, ANC News Channel, Philippines, shared her experience about the hits and misses of covering women stories in the Philippines. She spoke about how despite the numerous trainings and empathy exercises her News team went through, a number of reports produced still failed to connect with the audience effectively.
Mr. Frank Krishner H, Head, Dept of Mass Communications, St.Xavier’s College of Management Technology, Patna was very forthright in his presentation on ‘Do Asian Media listen to the issues of the marginalized and expose them adequately?’
Today, mass communication is no longer the only means of society-wide (and global) communication. New technologies have been developed. Mass communication, in the sense of a large-scale, one-way flow of public content, continues unabated, but it is no longer carried only by the ‘traditional’ mass media, he said.
In this context, Mr Krishner stated that the Freedom of Press index, published by ‘Reporters without Borders, was a good indicator of where we stand.
“Large numbers of people see the media as subject to undue political influence, and only a small minority believe most news organisations put what’s best for society ahead of their own commercial interest,” he said.
In the end, he highlighted the hurdles faced by Christian communicators and media in dealing with governments, administrations, corporate giants, when they seek to give voice to the marginalized. “Let us work together to use social media and the online channels, and develop alternative ways of listening, and allowing the marginalized to speak up for themselves,” he added.
Ms. Mary An, IFFAsia/ Fondacio ASIA, in her talk on ‘The Art of listening to people and issues around us – Practical methods and applications’, spoke on Five Poor Listening Style of Sean Covey wrote in his book “7 Habits for Effective Teens”. She also spoke on the Five Levels of Listening skills that one could also assess which level of listening with the tool that Stephen Covey provided in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
This was followed by a group discussion on “How can I improve my ways of listening to people and Issues around me?” Mr. Douglas Teoh, YOUNG Lives, Malaysia / Fondacio Malaysia moderated the discussion.
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