Anne-Marie Welsh


Pope Francis, who understands and supports the essential role
communications plays in spreading the Gospel, visits communications
practitioners at the Vatican's
Dicastery for Communications.      
Photo/Vatican Media

ROME, Italy — Staff members from the Communications Office of the Diocese of Erie were among more than 5,000 professionals from 64 countries who participated in Faith Communication in the Digital World, a two-hour virtual event marking the 50th anniversary of Communio et Progressio, the pastoral instruction on communications written by order of the Second Vatican Council. The seminar featured scholars and practitioners from around the world who reflected on the importance of the document.       
          Given that the document’s first draft was 300 pages long and written in Latin, it’s fair to say progress in church communications over the last half century is well worth celebrating.
          “It is still considered the most professional and best document on social communication of the church and beyond,” according to Father Franz-Josef Eilers, SVD, a former member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication who passed away earlier this year after decades of service in Catholic Communications.
          Recognizing that the text was written in another era, Paolo Ruffini, who now leads the Vatican’s communications efforts, called the document’s roots strong and its words prophetic. While social media was not a fully developed concept in 1971, Communio et Progressio remains relevant because it was not focused on technology, but instead, on the heart and soul of communications.
          Fostering understanding requires “a steady, two-way flow of information between authorities at all levels and the faithful,” Ruffini said, pointing out the church has learned that communication is no longer about making one-way statements.
          “It is rooted in relationship. Sincere, deep, stable relationship,” he said, encouraging communicators to seek encounter at all levels.
          Communio et Progressio, which took seven years of writing, discussion and editing, prophetically recognized that the top-down paradigm of mass media communication would shift. The internet and social media have meant a significant leap forward; presenters also gave a nod to the effect artificial intelligence will have on the field. 
          The insights of many presenters spilled beyond the borders of professional communications into all aspects of ministry as they called for emphases on listening, dialogue and the search for truth and authenticity. Reminding participants of their responsibility to nurture their own interior lives through spiritual practices, Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, said the Holy Spirit has a powerful role in communication.
          “It is the Spirit who declares God’s words, gives us the ability to talk and guides us to the truth,” she said, calling boldness, courage, wisdom and consolation from the Holy Spirit essential to transforming communication into encounter.
          Among the final panel of presenters was Father Anthony LeDuc, SVD, of the Asian Research Center for Religion and Social Communication. He also underscored the idea that true advancement in communications is not about the latest devices, more wealth or even power. The question we have to answer, he said, is “What advances our level of mutual understanding?”
          Father LeDuc also said the authors knew their work had limitations because of the evolving nature of communications. He said the challenge for the church is to “stay flexible and keep pace.”