Amid the deluge of information and chatter in today’s media, the Church needs to help people find havens of silence, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
Far from being the enemy of calm and quiet, social media and the internet can lead people to sanctuaries that offer silent reflection, thoughtful dialogue and true meaning in life, he said.
“Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God,” he said in his message for the 2012 celebration of World Communications Day.
Even brief posts and viral tweets can carry potent messages when people use those tools – not for spamming or for scanning the latest gossip – but for sharing a real part of themselves, he said.
“In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives,” he said.
The theme of this year’s World Communications Day – marked in most dioceses the Sunday before Pentecost, this year on May 20 – is “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelisation”. The papal message was released on the feast of St Francis de Sales, patron of writers, on Tuesday.
At a press conference on the message’s release, Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said there was a huge difference between a “semantic silence” that can be rich in or bolster meaning versus “keeping quiet” and ignoring the reality.
“There are situations where I must speak up,” he said, because otherwise “my silence would be a betrayal”, especially when witnessing injustice.
The kind of silence that needs cultivating is not the kind that alienates people, but that leads people to a greater awareness and sensitivity of others and their needs, he said.
When asked how the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle on television and talk shows could feasibly implement the benefits of silence, the Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, who also heads Vatican Radio and the Vatican television center, said silence is used when one truly listens to the other.
A talk show or debate in which each participant could speak and be heard without others trying to interrupt “would already be a step forward”, the priest said.
In his message, the Pope said that “silence is often overlooked” but is especially important today.
Silence, words, images and sounds need “a kind of eco-system,” that is, to find a harmonious, symbiotic balance “if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved”, he said.
Words without reflection and silence without meaning result in confusion, coldness and communication breakdown, he said.
Silence builds meaning, clarity and creativity since “we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth;” and people have the time to choose how to best express themselves, he said.
Listening to others requires silence, and “we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested”, he said.
Moments of quiet and calm allow people to sift through, process and evaluate the information they’re bombarded with, figure out what is important or secondary, discover connections and “share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge”, the Pope said.
The Pope underlined the importance of digital media – a theme he has championed in his three previous communications day messages.
Search engines and social networks aid people in their innate thirst for answers and the truth, he said.
Because many people launch queries online about the deepest meanings of life, it is important for the Church “to affirm those who ask these questions and open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection,” he said.
He said silence was also key to the new evangelisation – the central theme for the world Synod of Bishops that will meet in October.
“If God speaks to us even in silence, we, in turn, discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God,” he said.
Language, in fact, fails to encompass and truly communicate God’s grandeur; the extent of his love, power and mercy sink in with silent contemplation, and from that awe-inspiring awareness springs forth “the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation” to share Christ and his word with others, he said.