Skip to main content

Have Catholic Communicators taken stand against 'callous, complacent' Govt of India?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Pope Francis has once again thrown a challenge to Catholic Communicators in his annual message for World Communications Day which this year falls on Sunday 16 May. In his typically direct yet profound way, he focuses his message on the theme ‘Come and See (Jn 1:46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are.’
In doing so, he makes it amply clear that “in order to tell the truth of life that becomes history, it is necessary to move beyond the complacent attitude that we ‘already know’ certain things. Instead, we need to go and see them for ourselves, to spend time with people, to listen to their stories and to confront reality, which always in some way surprises us.”
Though Pope Francis’ message is addressed primarily to Catholic communicators, it is, in fact applicable to all communicators today! In his introductory paragraph Pope Francis sets the tone of what Christian Communication is and should be:
“This year, then, I would like to devote this Message to the invitation to ‘come and see’, which can serve as an inspiration for all communication that strives to be clear and honest, in the press, on the internet, in the Church’s daily preaching and in political or social communication. Come and see!’ This has always been the way that the Christian faith has been communicated, from the time of those first encounters on the banks of the River Jordan and on the Sea of Galilee”.
‘Come and See’ therefore in essence, is to ‘be and do’.
In the subsections that follow, Pope Francis highlights three inter-related dimensions in order to drive home his point: to hit the streets, to live the communication of the Gospels and to have the courage of one’s conviction. All these three resonate very strongly with what he says in his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’(The Joy of the Gospels’):
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life”.
He sees the need of “hitting the streets”, in order to grasp the truth of things and the concrete lives of people, and more important the serious social phenomena or positive movements at the grass roots level. He laments how the original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts which involved sticking one’s neck out – is today replaced by ‘tendentious narrative’.
For Pope Francis “hitting the streets” essentially means meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first hand; he emphatically states that, “unless we open ourselves to this kind of encounter, we remain mere spectators”.
“Come and See”, says Pope Francis, “were the first words that Jesus spoke to the disciples who were curious about him following his baptism in the Jordan river (Jn 1:39). He invited them to enter into a relationship with him. For Jesus, as one sees throughout the Gospel this ‘come and see’ is meant to be a transformative experience. Several religious congregations today have this ‘come and see’ period: often called a ‘prenovitiate’ or ‘aspirancy’."
Basically, it is a time of orientation: a probation, an internship: when one begins internalising a particular value system and also has an opportunity for involvement. Pope Francis give us the examples of Nathanael and the Samaritan woman saying, “That is how Christian faith begins, and how it is communicated: as direct knowledge, born of experience, and not of hearsay.”
The change in attitude which evolves when theory moves into practise. That ability to reach out to others. “Come and See” is the simplest method to get to know a situation. It is the most honest test of every message, because, in order to know, we need to encounter, to let the person in front of me speak, to let his or her testimony reach me.” He then talks about the ‘courage of many journalists’; he thanks them for their stand and heaps praise on them. He says:
“Journalism too, as an account of reality, calls for an ability to go where no one else thinks of going: a readiness to set out and a desire to see. Curiosity, openness, passion. We owe a word of gratitude for the courage and commitment of all those professionals – journalists, camera operators, editors, directors – who often risk their lives in carrying out their work.
“Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked. It would be a loss not only for news reporting, but for society and for democracy as a whole, were those voices to fade away. Our entire human family would be impoverished”.

Here Pope Francis gives us plenty of food-for-thought on the current pandemic. His message was made public on 23 January – but with some extraordinary foresight he was already writing about the pandemic which grips India today when he says:
“Many situations in our world, even more so in this time of pandemic, are inviting the communications media to ‘come and see’. We can risk reporting the pandemic, and indeed every crisis, only through the lens of the richer nations, of ‘keeping two sets of books’. For example, there is the question of vaccines, and medical care in general, which risks excluding the poorer peoples.
“Who would keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Social and economic differences on the global level risk dictating the order of distribution of anti-Covid vaccines, with the poor always at the end of the line and the right to universal health care affirmed in principle, but stripped of real effect. 
"Yet even in the world of the more fortunate, the social tragedy of families rapidly slipping into poverty remains largely hidden; people who are no longer ashamed to wait in line before charitable organizations in order to receive a package of provisions do not tend to make news”.
Pope Francis speaks a bit about the ‘Opportunities and hidden dangers on the web’. We are all aware of how the web/internet has radically transformed our lives. For more than fourteen months now, ever since the pandemic has forced millions to ‘stay at home’ – the internet has been a significant means of keeping many sane: some were privileged to ‘work from home’, millions of students could avail of online classes, social media was on a song with almost anything and everything finding some space on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like.
One could be ‘in touch’ constantly with distant relatives and friends and with what was happening all around. Sadly there are also the hidden dangers -- when we tend to get overwhelmed with all that we received. One clear example is all the ‘fundas’ being dished out as a cure or a preventive to Covid-19; quick-fixes, good grandmothers decoctions that are certainly helpful in boosting one’s immunity level – now flaunted as a cure!

For Pope Francis 'hitting the streets' essentially means meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first hand

Then there is the infamous ‘WhatsApp university’ – to which one is so easily hooked to. The point is that there is so much of ‘fake’ news being forwarded that oftentimes, even without thinking , verifying/ authenticating one happily forwards such stuff. Pope Francis rightly warns us: 
“All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share”.
On World Communications Day, Pope Francis gives Catholic communicators some key words as directions, to what catholic communications is all about. The base words are obviously ‘Come’ and ‘See’: the implications are clear – unless one gets out of one’s comfort zone – nothing will change.
He reminds us that in the Gospel – only when goes out to see, to seek – does a change a metamorphosis, a metanoia takes place. Then right through he uses words like ‘encounter’ , ‘clear’, ‘honest’ , ‘courage’ , ‘authentic’, ‘truth’ , ‘reality’ , ‘curiosity’ . ‘openness’ , ‘passion’ – which are not merely an haphazard collection but the metamorphosis non-negotiable essentials of what a communicator should be internalising in order to be truly a witness of Jesus in our world today! It is a call ‘to be’ and ‘to do’ : to be visible and vocal , to stick one’s neck out, to take a stand for truth and justice.
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day – the annual World Press Freedom Index-2021, placed India a lowly 142 out of 180 countries which were evaluated! A sad commentary on the way media is throttled in India! (the last few weeks, however, we must admit that there is a sea-change at least in some of the mainstream media).
In the light of the challenges which Pope Francis throws to Catholic communicators and in the context of the reality which grips the country today – it is imperative that Catholic communicators do some serious soul-searching, ask themselves some uncomfortable questions, have the courage to answer them truthfully and act urgently on these responses. The questions are several ; some of them are:
  • Are Catholic Communicators visible and vocal to what is happening in the country today? How many are taking a stand for justice and truth? Sticking one’s neck out?
  • How many Catholic Communicators have taken a stand against the callousness, the corruption and the complacency of the Central Government during this pandemic? How many have written about it ,done video presentations, preached about it?
  • How many editorials have taken a stand against the ‘love jihad’ laws of certain Governments ? the wanton destruction of the environment? Or for that matter against the Central Vista project? Or against the conditions in our prisons today?
An honest evaluation of what most Catholic Communicators are ‘doing’ will easily reveal the painful truth. Communications today is not about fancy gizmos or sophisticated studios or for that matter even of so-called ‘productions’ Many of these we know, become obsolete, irrelevant and outdated in a matter of time.
Communications is also not about couch potatoes who are afraid to hit the streets. Today several are more interested in relegating communications to ‘toeing the line’ , licking the boots of the powerful’ , maintaining the ‘status quo’, about protecting our possessions and privileges . All this is certainly a betrayal of Christ and his message of what Catholic Communications should be.
One should take a cue from the latest issue of the “Outlook” magazine (May 24, 2021), a creative cover page with emboldened letters in red just one word ‘MISSING ‘ and just below NAME: Government of India; AGE 7 years ; INFORM: Citizens of India!
One can also look at the front page of the Kolkata based daily ‘The Telegraph’(May 15, 2021) with the bold captions, “If you call this pain…..What do you call this?” With very apt pictures! What powerful images of the Indian reality today! Catholic communicators are called to do likewise!
Pope Francis’ message does not only have to be read in toto but also needs to be internalised. He gives a final salvo saying, “The challenge that awaits us, then, is to communicate by encountering people, where they are and as they are”; and in that final prayer:
“Lord, teach us to move beyond ourselves,
and to set out in search of truth.
Teach us to go out and see,
teach us to listen,
not to entertain prejudices
or draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one else will go,
to take the time needed to understand,
to pay attention to the essentials,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish deceptive appearances from the truth.
Grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world
and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen”.

To ‘Come and See’ then is to ‘Be and Do’ – the ball is now in the court of Catholic communicators and, in fact, with all those who are committed to free and fearless communications which is based on truth and justice! It is left to be seen if one has the courage to accept the challenge!
---
*Gujarat-based human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Did Netaji turn blind eye to Japanese massacre while in Andaman during World War-II?

Dr Diwan Singh Kalepani museum off Chandigarh By Rajiv Shah  Did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose ignore the massacre carried out by the Japanese army in Andaman and Nicobar islands during the Second World War? It would seem so, if one goes by the account of Mohinder Singh Dhillon, who authored a book in memory of his father, 'A Titan in the Andamans, Dr Diwan Singh Kalepani'. Dr Diwan Singh was tortured to death by the Japanese soldiers in the cellular jail in Andaman in 1944.

A golden goose, GoI bent on selling LIC 'for pittance' without consulting stakeholders

By Thomas Franco*  In spite of strong opposition from all sections of the society, the Finance Minister (FM) recently asked her Ministries to speed up Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) Initial Public Offer (IPO). Does she realise that this can lead to collapse of the economy over a period of time because LIC is a golden goose which is giving golden eggs regularly to the economy, development projects and providing social security to the majority of the marginalised people of this country.

Sweden-backed study: India won't achieve 2030 UN goals, officials can't recognise SDG

By Rajiv Shah  A Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC)-sponsored study, carried out by the advocacy group Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) India, seeking to analyse the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 12, Responsible Consumption and Production (RCP), has regretted, it is "very unlikely" India will achieve any of the targets of SDG 12 by 2030 "unless some serious measures are taken by the government to reverse the present trend."

Modi's Gujarat 'ignores' India's biggest donor of Azad Hind Fauj, Dhoraji's Habib Sheth

By Dr Hari Desai* One surely feels happy that the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is being installed near the India Gate in New Delhi. Every Indian and even Netaji’s 79-year-old daughter Prof Anita Bose Pfaff feels happy about the statue at the most important area of the capital. In an interview with an Indian TV, Anita, who is a German citizen, mentions that she thinks if not Netaji’s only Mahatma Gandhi’s statue should have been there. She may be aware that there existed a plan to install life-sized statue of the Father of the Nation at that place.  Even after differences with Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel which led Netaji to leave the Indian National Congress, Bose was the first person to call Mahtma Gandhi Father of the Nation on July 6,1944 in his Ragoon Radio broadcast, and sought Bapu’s blessings as the Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army (INA). Till 1968 there was statue of King George V at India Gate. It was removed and placed in the Coronation Park, New Del

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Why Church in India today needs a Rutilio Grande, martyred for stance on social justice

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  For the people of El Salvador, January 22, 2022 will be more than just a red-letter day. Three of their sons, Jesuit Fr Rutilio Grande and his two lay associates 72-year-old Manuel Solorzano and 15-year-old Nelson Rutilio Lemus (and Italian Franciscan missionary Fr Cosme Spessotto who was also martyred) will be beatified in San Salvador.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'Dargah site was a temple': Claim in Gujarat following post-Babri verdict demands in UP

By Rajiv Shah  Will Gujarat also see demands to replace mosques and dargahs with Hindu temples? It would seem so, if a new fact-finding team conclusion is any indication. Apprehending the “danger” of communal conflagration, it has cited the claim on a 15th century dargah was originally a Hindu temple – allegedly quite on line with what has been happening in UP following the Supreme Court verdict on Babri Mosque.

Is it time to celebrate India's 'improved' sex ratio? Reasons to question NFHS data

By Aditi Chaudhary*  The recently published National Family Health Survey (NFHS) factsheet brought cheers amongst the public and the government. With Child Sex ratio (number of females per 1000 males in the age group 0 - 6 years) and overall sex ratio (the total number of females per 1000 males), both showing an improvement, NFHS-5 (2019-21) got applauded by all around.