By Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director
Does the Catholic Church have anything relevant to say about the spread of “fake news” and its impact on political debate? Pope Francis offers an unalloyed “yes!”
In his Communications Day Message for 2017 (issued Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, but celebrated the Sunday before Pentecost), the pope focuses on communicating hope in a time of widespread distrust, fear and hatred. He addresses head on the notion that there can be no truth, just “alternative facts” to fuel the increasingly angry and irrational debate we see raging in all our media — from traditional newspapers to Twitter.
He starts by acknowledging that there is a history — an ongoing series of events, objective facts — that can be interpreted differently.
“Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?”
“Ay, there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said. We choose the lens through which we understand what’s going on in our world. Lately, the lens that has dominated public debate has been crafted through fear of the stranger (more precisely, immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries), fear for our own futures, anger and distrust towards the “elites” who run our institutions, whether they be business, government, academic or even religious.
Francis proposes a different lens, one inspired by the gospel. “In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure,” says the pope. “Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.”
As Catholic communicators, we are reminded by Francis that Jesus used parables — stories — to get his message across in a manner people could understand. Story-telling is often at the heart of what we do even today. In the face of stories of gloom and despair, we can offer stories — true stories, we do not have to make up anything — that can inspire and encourage hope in our readers and listeners.
In dark times, when hope seems ever more distant and our faith can appear increasingly foolish, we also need to find strength to keep going. Francis reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always present and ready to reinvigorate us.
“Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough.”
Through this lens, we can once again see light in the darkness and find a way to continue our work in God’s vineyard.