* The prefect of the Dicastery for Communication spoke at the SIGNIS World Congress 2022 in Seoul, Korea.
Allow me first of all to express my gratitude.
I am truly happy to be here with you; to be here in person. Here. Really here. This is important to me. And not because I underestimate the possibilities that technology has been making available to us for a long time, among them that of travelling while remaining in one place. Nor because I overestimate the ancient world, which had no interconnections, computers or internet connections.
Technology today gives us things that, just a few decades ago, were unthinkable. Like teleconferencing. Telemedicine. E-commerce.
Technology has not only transformed our world. It is a part of who we are as human beings.
It is a product of our ingenuity.
It is based on our thoughts, on our ability to connect knowledge. And to invent things that were not there before.
Technology realizes a human idea; it brings into the world a product of the human spirit.
It is based on the incalculable possibilities of humankind … and of nature.
It demonstrates man’s role in the development of the world.
And it undermines the fatalist approach, according to which there is no point in struggling against a fate that is supposedly already written.
On the contrary, man’s work, — his artistic and scientific-technical creativity — are divine characteristics. They are children of the divine breath we carry within.
That is why we are protagonists of our future.
But only if we do not lose sight of our limits. Only if we don’t think of ourselves as equal to God.
And as long as we accept that there are — and always will be — things that technology cannot replace. Like freedom. Like the miracle of an encounter between people. Like the surprise of the unexpected. Like conversion. Outbursts of ingenuity. Gratuitous love.
That is why, I think, we have — more than the duty — the need to be together: to live that beauty.
But here is the paradox of our time.
We are hyper-connected and also alone. Everyone, in the end, closed in on themselves.
The problem is precisely here: when there is no longer communication but only connection, when there is no longer reality but a substitute for it. That’s when we need to question ourselves, to do a personal and collective examination of conscience; and answer some questions, with an open mind.
How is it possible to be simultaneously hyper-connected and yet terribly alone?
What is missing from our connection that can bridge this loneliness, and that is strong enough to endure over time? What does this connection require in order to take root physically and not just virtually? In order to rediscover the value of the time that passes and not just the instant that follows? How can it help us to see the world as it truly is and to try to change it for the better?
Where is the answer to these questions? Where is the solution that can restore to connectedness the soul that is too often lost? The solution that can give back to “togetherness” the value of sincere friendship; to interlocution the uniqueness of dialogue; to appearance the solidity of substance? Where is the solution that gives a dream the concreteness of a process and not the fragility of an illusion?
If we think about it, the answers are within us.
We already know them.
The only way to respond to the challenge of technology is not to think of it as an idol. But also not to demonize it.
Not to believe that it has the task of redeeming humanity, but also, not to think that its perdition depends on it.
I think these two extremes delineate the field of our challenge.
And it is the field of personal responsibility.
Right here in Korea, in the Shrine of Solmoe, Pope Francis, responding to a young girl, Marina, gave us the key to pursuing happiness in the telematic society.
Marina had made a reflection on this.
“She,” the Pope commented, “told us something very true: you cannot purchase happiness. Whenever you buy happiness, you soon realize that it has vanished: The happiness you buy does not last. Only the happiness of love is the kind that lasts.”
We all sense the risk, sometimes even the certainty, of being treated as things, objects that are bought and sold.
Consumerism confuses short-term satisfaction for more profound and more lasting happiness.
As Filipe Domingues writes (Selflessness in the age of selfies, p. 17), consumerism has become the paradigm where we define our identities. To feel that we are somebody, we must consume. And so — according to the famous aphorism of Eric Fromm — we end up being what we have instead of what we are.
We end up pretending to be what we are not in order to get a speck of attention.
The virus of loneliness depends on this facade.
We know that we are much more than the things we possess.
We know the truth of what we are and, therefore, also how we appear to others, as if on a stage.
We know the difference between a real meeting and its virtual prologue.
We know the strength of technology but also its weakness.
We know that we are not just consumers, let alone objects to be consumed.
We know very well that only a relationship — a connection based on love — can make us less lonely, can last, and make us happy.
And love is based on this supreme fragility, which is the need for love; the need to love and be loved; to give and to give oneself.
Here is the root of all communication.
Here is the reason why connection alone is not enough.
And despite being drunk with narcissism, imprisoned in our selfishness and ambition, we still instinctively perceive the limits of the superb idea that technology is sufficient in itself — and for us — to satisfy our need for knowledge and relationship.
We know, deep within ourselves, what we risk losing in hyper-connectedness if it is uprooted from reality and truth.
As Pope Francis wrote in his Message for the 53rd Day of Social Communications, “social network communities are not automatically synonymous with community.” Too often their identity is “based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group.” Too often “we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us.” This gives “rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious, and other),” and “what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.”
This is why we measure everything and understand nothing about the meaning of life; why we narrate things without understanding their meaning, without seeing them as part of a whole; and without fully understanding our role as communicators in enacting change. In the end instead, we experience only our solitude.
Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, we might add that we know everything, but, unfortunately, that is all we know. Nothing. (“People know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I think is the full quote…)
There are indeed things that cannot be measured. Things that cannot be purchased.
Relationships, care, compassion, collaboration, and non-separation are the qualities that the reductionist, technicist, utilitarian technology paradigm does not contemplate.
And it would be a glaring mistake to think of applying this same paradigm to communication (and information).
A different perspective is needed.
This is where our witness as communicators — as a network of communicators, as journalists, seekers of a truth that transcends us, builders of a different way of making information — comes in.
Seoul is preparing to be the first city to cross — as a city — the borders of the metaverse.
To make its services more efficient in this way.
This is an important point.
It gives technology a perspective of service to the common good that goes beyond its current limits.
It is a step that simultaneously revives the issue of happiness and loneliness.
We have all been questioning for some time now whether this is the “beyond” that we seek, the “more” that we chase as a community. Or whether — even in this case — the exponential increase in sensory connection will miss the goal of automatically and proportionally reducing the loneliness that plagues us.
What is the meaning of this “beyond”?
What is the “beyond” of the contemporary era where we dream of finding the remedy to our unhappiness?
Perhaps this is where we need to start: from what helps us grasp the meaning of the “beyond.”
From the ultimate sense of what makes us human.
What makes us lonely is a connection that does not take on our humanity; a connection separated from reality; that divides us, closes us in on ourselves, even though it seems to unite us.
As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium 87, “to be self-enclosed” is precisely the opposite of going beyond; it is “to taste the bitter poison of immanence” ….
The “beyond” we seek cannot then be characterized by a caesura, a closure, a fiction, or even a function, but by the rediscovery of what truly unites us with each other and with God.
And here, the theme of “the beyond” raises the question of “the limit.”
Of respect for the limit. Of awareness of the limit.
Perhaps we can understand the root of our hyper-connected loneliness only if we stop for a moment to look at what we as human beings have been up to in the world, appropriating it as if it were our property.
We are alone even though we are connected with the whole world.
Therein lies the paradox, the vicious cycle.
To get out of it, we must find the true meaning of “the beyond”, which transcends the here and now, technology and the market. It transcends economic, numerical and pragmatic canons.
We are living through a transition of epochs.
To look beyond requires a prophetic gaze.
Like the writer Charles Dickens, we might say that we are in the best and worst of times.
In the age of wisdom and foolishness.
In the age of communication and incommunicability.
In the age of consumer globalization and also of indifference.
But if the history we live is the place where salvation happens, it is up to us to help turn to good the time that is being consumed right before our eyes. And it asks us to shape it.
In a world that mistakes obliviousness for objectivity; where journalism is often irresistibly attracted to and corrupted by power; it is up to us to serve the truth.
It is up to us, as the Church, to use the eyes and the ears of faith.
We must open our ears to the voice of God speaking through human events and facts (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 4).
We have to weave ethics into technology, impregnate it with that Spirit of free gift and sharing that is the divine breath that animates us.
Even in the information sector, if we think about it, what we are missing today is not so much the news (which, moreover, are not always true). We are missing relationships in the truth of an encounter that generates deeper, greater information.
It is a reliable ecosystem that does not sell you or buy you but serves you.
To put the truth in communion, to build community, is the only lasting answer to people’s needs.
In the integration process which has by now superseded the distinctions between television, internet, radio, print media, and social media, we can integrate service functions with “higher” ones. The local and the global. This is the way to overcome loneliness and turn frailties into strength. By making sure that from the synergy between us, between our media, and our capillary presence on the ground, an alternative information network can spring up. An alternative to the narrative of reality that feeds fears, ghosts, and divisions.
We are already a network. What we lack is the humble and patient creativity of those who do not seek the fireworks of a moment, but a faithful relationship, animated by the Spirit that unites us.
Giving oneself to others, without wanting to become someone, is the best and most tested antidote to loneliness; and it is the opposite of that miserly feeling that wants only to have from others and that — thinking to obtain the best this way — generates the worst: loneliness and unhappiness.
“If I have to be ‘someone,’” the Pope remarked, commenting on the beatitude dedicated to the poor in Spirit, “then I am in competition with others, and I worry excessively about my ego…, I hate everything that reminds me of my fragility. Because this fragility prevents me from becoming an important person, someone who is rich, not only moneywise, even well-known: everything.”
Instead, here is the paradoxical, surprising announcement of Jesus, which places a strange condition for beatitude: poverty.
This also concerns the world of communication.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit.
Their relationship with others, their communication with others, and their search for truth are always open to encounters and surprises.
Letting yourself be surprised is the opposite of thinking you already know everything, labelling everything.
“The pure in heart,” said Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became Pope, “know how to see, even in the most conflictual and painful situations, the fund of good to be recovered.”
The pure in heart know that communicating means persistently seeking a relationship.
They do not resign themselves to living on substitutes or on nostalgia, subjugated by the idea that what is right is not possible.
They do not credulously chase the lying promises of the many sellers of cheap happiness.
They create communion. They see beyond appearances. They see unity possible beyond division.
This is the challenge of good communication.
This is the challenge of good journalism.
This is also the challenge of SIGNIS.
To find new ways for new communication.
Contaminating genres and languages.
But focusing on dialogue rather than on marketing ideas; on intelligence as a moral category rather than on fanatical moralism of the crowd; on speech not as a din or shout but as a means of encounter; and on images as unveiling rather than staging.
Avoiding the idolatrous risk of self-referentiality.
“This calls for creativity,” the Pope said just a few weeks ago in Quebec, “capable of reaching people where they are living, finding opportunities for listening, dialogue and encounter. We need to return to the simplicity and enthusiasm of the Acts of the Apostles, to the beauty of realizing that we are instruments of the Spirit’s fruitfulness today” (cf. Homily at Vespers, 28 July 2022).
We can offer this remedy to those seeking a way beyond loneliness.
Here is a beautiful task for the men and women of SIGNIS: to be a network that unites, a network that liberates, a network woven of truth and beauty, faith and hope; to be the concrete, visible alternative to the web of confusing chatter where everything is true and everything is false, and where there is no more room for the truth of an encounter.
As the Pope always tells us, we need media that builds bridges and breaks down walls, working toward social cohesion.
It is up to us, it is up to you, together, to create a network of searching for the good, the just, the beautiful, the infinite.
We can create a network of witnesses aware of the difference between the Spirit that unites us (with each other and with God, as members of each other) and technology that (left to itself, deprived of the divine breath that animates our souls) does not perceive the love in which everything subsists.
“We are members one of another” is not just a figure of speech. It is the truth of who we are, even if we too often deny it.
The world is not ready-made. Therefore, neither is the digital world. We ourselves can change it for better or for worse.
That is why we need to reinforce our being a network as a reference point for cultural debate globally and in individual countries, and manage the potential conflict between freedom and responsibility.
SIGNIS can help the whole Church to weave a network that is not satisfied with connection but translates the Gospel message into the world of multimedia without erasing the histories and cultures of each country.
By offering our network as a place of true encounters among people, we can bear witness to a different way of living our time; a way that is founded on the gift rather than on consumption; on giving for free rather than on price; on sharing rather than on hegemonic ambition; on union as a remedy to the ambition to divide ourselves from others and then impose ourselves on them by standardizing them.
I say this with Rome in mind as well, specifically the Dicastery for Communication where I serve.
If the Vatican’s media do not know how to build and bear witness to this communion, ours will only be a mimicking of the world: yet another attempt to build a tower of Babel.
Our way, your way, the way of anyone animated by goodwill and who seeks to restore meaning to communication, is different.
We could say, paraphrasing what Korean poet Ko Un writes about the flower of an instant: we have already come across it, but we have not seen it.
“On the way down, I saw the flower I had not seen on the way up.”
That path — in my opinion — entrusts us, as a community of believers, to offer the world a different communication system.
We can build communion through communication; with humility, without boastfulness, with the awareness that we are useless servants, instruments of a mission that transcends us.
This is why the work of SIGNIS is important (and even essential).
I know, we all measure the difficulty of living up to the task entrusted to us each day. The gap between what we are and what we would like to be.
But in the Encyclical Laudato Si’, in the Apostolic Exhortations Evangelii Gaudium, Gaudete et Exsultate, and Querida Amazonia, the Pope urges us to read the signs of the times.
Everything is a call.
Catholic communicators, Catholic journalists, dear friends of SIGNIS, all men and women of goodwill, we are all engaged in this difficult and great field of communication.
We can be protagonists of a new humanism embodied in active and participatory communities.
We can weave a new idea of citizenship.
It is up to us to promote the stable and permanent involvement of young people from all over the world in our communication, linking them according to their projects.
It is up to us to try to weave a multimedia universe to be proud of: for its freedom; for its openness; for its ability to create a boundless community of belonging and sharing; for its ability to generate action. And to consider communication as a system of relationships.
It is up to us to take away from the web that opaque tendency that apparently unites but instead divides. It is up to us to witness a different way of living and to design a new way of communicating: new yet ancient, based on gift rather than consumption; on gratuitousness rather than price; on sharing rather than exclusion.
Our challenge is great but within reach, if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Because then we will be more credible, more grounded, more aware that the local dimension (if it is not separated from the universal one) is not less but more.
Together we can build projects on this. Maybe we can also find a way of fundraising for this. “Unity is Strength; division is weakness” (a Swahili proverb says).
The most important and most challenging task for any media is to build a relational system capable of collecting, organizing, networking, communicating, and sharing the good, the beauty of the truth. We can do it. In all the languages, in all the world.
It is difficult. But we know the way.
SIGNIS can be more and more the arterial system of our communication that should be at the same time respectful of any culture and universal in letting the truth be told and at the same time understood.
Building a reliable, trustable communication environment is our task.
By rediscovering our being one, we can make our media a common space where local Churches learn about each other, and where even non-believers find answers to their fundamental questions.
We need one another.
We need people of goodwill.
We need volunteers.
We need professionals.
We need to understand how extraordinary our service can be.
We need to strengthen the link between Rome and the local Churches and to understand that every believer can — or even must — contribute to building this communal system, based on humanity more than on machine technology, letting the message travel from person to person as something beautiful because it is true. Beautiful because it is personally experienced. Beautiful because it tells of the beauty of God and of humankind. And because it builds a togetherness that sweeps away any loneliness.
This is our task. Maybe it goes against the tide.
But as Goethe says, “A kite can only rise against the wind.”