How do we attract a new generation to consider Christianity? This question is common table talk at practically every gathering of Christians I attend these days. It is a question that Pope Francis answers in his annual message for World Communications Day, celebrated by the Church on June 1 this year.
As Francis acknowledges, it isn’t enough to distribute facts about our faith, or even arguments, as if all we needed to do was eliminate ignorance and everyone would suddenly see the light. The challenge of the New Evangelization is not a lack of information about Christianity; it is a lack of empathy.
“Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others ‘by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence’ (Benedict XVI, 2013 Message for World Communications Day),” the Pope writes for 2014.
Francis points to the story of the Good Samaritan as a useful object lesson about communications in a digital age. He uses the word “neighbourly” to describe the Samaritan’s actions in taking care of the beaten man by the side of the road. In effect, he communicated God’s love by his actions.
“It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways (like the Levite and the priest),” Francis says. “We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved.”
Despite the sometimes frenzied, over-stimulated nature of the digital world — or perhaps because of these very characteristics — the Church needs to be present there is a way that counters its anti-human tendencies.
“In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and stirring hearts.”
The message of Pope Francis reminds me of another message I heard at a recent gathering of Christian communicators held in Winnipeg. These men and women, drawn from a wide range of denominations, were struggling with the question of how to even catch the interest of people in the digital world.
One of the answers, offered by several speakers, was taken from the thoughts of Jean Vanier, the Canadian philosopher and founder of l’Arche, an international network of communities for the intellectually disabled.
For Vanier, the way to engage non-believers in an exploration of faith was to start not with doctrine, but with beauty. In this, Christianity has blessed the world with an astonishing over-abundance through the centuries. Only after we have touched their souls and their hearts do we begin to deal with intellectual matters.
A last word on this goes to Francis: “Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.”
-Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director