Communication that is better thought out and more concise

by Bishop Donal Murray

The opening session of the assembly on the Capitoline hill aptly signalled the intention to engage with the ‘real’ world dominated by politics and economics.  It is the site of ancient temples and of the civic government of Rome.  It gave its name to the greatest centre of political power in today’s world, the United States Capitol. On that hill stood the temple of Juno Moneta from which the word ‘money’ derives.

The overriding impression of the Plenaria of 2010 was of the great variety of languages in which communication takes place in our world. We were presented with stimulating insights from eminent speakers of the ’languages’ of architecture, of cinema, of music, of mystagogy and of the continuously expanding and developing internet.

When he visited Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II said that “Every generation, with its own mentality and characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ[1]. The internet, and in particular the many forms of social networking, are certainly a new continent.

The new language of the web can create obstacles – a certain anonymity, a superficiality, a problem about authenticating information, the danger of manipulation and malicious use.  These may also be opportunities. People may be willing initiate discussion anonymously who are not yet ready to raise the issues face to face.  The restriction on the size of messages in texting or on Twitter may lead to communication that is better thought out and more concise.  Learning, even through unpleasant experience, the importance of authenticating and evaluating what one is told is a healthy thing.

The speed of change is disconcerting. With due reservations about the difficulty of authenticating information derived from the internet, it would appear that radio took 38 years to acquire 50 million listeners, television took 13 years, the internet 4 years.  Facebook acquired 200 million in less than one year![2]

A reassuringly high proportion of the assembly admitted to having a Facebook page, although its members were of a generation that has had to approach the internet like a stranger learning an unknown language!

The long history of the Church has been a story of the challenge of speaking the Good News in new languages.  The missionary – and every member of the Church is a missionary[3] --always has to learn the language of a new culture and time. In Ireland, for instance, the early Christian monks became the successors of the pagan druids and poets; they also absorbed the traditions of Greece and Rome:

“An examination of Columban’s works shows reminiscences of Persius, Vergil, Horace, Sallust, Ovid, Juvenal and of the Christian poets Juvenus, Prudentius and Ausonius”[4] .

Aquinas engaged with Arab philosophy and Matteo Ricci with the culture of China.  Today’s challenge for the Church is to engage with a new culture and language at least as unfamiliar as any previous missionary context.

There are many avenues of pre-evangelisation, many areas of common ground with people of good will.  The real core of the message however, is what was so eloquently presented by the Prior of Bosé, Enzo Bianchi.  How, through these new languages, may people be led into the mystery?  Music, art, architecture, literature cinema and of course liturgy have, down the centuries, played such a role.  We saw some beginnings of the way in which the internet may provide ways of opening minds and hearts to the quest for the deepest truths about ourselves and about our Creator and Redeemer.

I left Rome with a great variety of experiences and ideas, but with a growing conviction.   In many places, priests and laity feel a great concern about how to involve young people in the life of the Church.  Young people, on the other hand, feel that the parish or Church organisations do not meet their needs.  Surely what we must try to do is clear.

Among that young generation of Christians there must be potential new missionaries who, perhaps without ever leaving their countries, can recognise the new continent, a restless, lost continent, a continent whose language they speak fluently, and which needs to hear the Good News in that language.

St Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary after he heard ‘the voice of the Irish’ calling him to walk among them.  All of the followers of Christ need speak that call to a new generation, inspiring themspeak as believers to their contemporaries.

[1]JOHN PAUL II, Homily at Knock, 30 September 1979.


[3]Cf. JOHN PAUL II, RedemptorisMissio, 27..

[4]RYAN, J., Irish Monasticism, Origins and Early Development, Dublin & Cork 1931, p, 381.