On May 14, the Catholic Church in Australia marks the 57th World Communications Day. Pope Francis’ message for the day reflects on the theme ‘Speaking with the heart: “The truth in love” from Ephesians 4:15’.

Pope Francis opens by reminding us that in previous World Communications Day messages, he has reflected on the verbs ‘to go and see’ and ‘to listen’, observing that these are good conditions for communication. The 2023 theme, ‘Speaking with the heart’, naturally flows from this. ‘It is the heart that spurred us to go, to see and to listen, and it is the heart that moves us towards an open and welcoming way of communicating,’ he writes.

Once we have practised listening, which demands waiting and patience, as well as foregoing the assertion of our point of view in a prejudicial way, we can enter into the dynamic of dialogue and sharing, which is precisely that of communicating in a cordial way.

He goes on to say, ‘Communicating in a cordial manner means that those who read or listen to us are led to welcome our participation in the joys, fears, hopes and suffering of the women and men of our time. Those who speak in this way love the other because they care and protect their freedom without violating it.’

There is a deep emphasis on using the gift of communication as a ‘bridge’ and not as a wall, where kindness is not only a question of ‘etiquette’ but a ‘genuine antidote to cruelty’. We need to foster peace and understanding. Acknowledging that we are ‘living in a dark hour in which humanity fears an escalation of war,’ he writes that ‘Today more than ever, speaking with the heart is essential to foster a culture of peace in places where there is war; to open paths that allow for dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage.

‘In the dramatic context of the global conflict we are experiencing, it is urgent to maintain a form of communication that is not hostile. It is necessary to overcome the tendency to “discredit and insult opponents from the outset [rather] than to open a respectful dialogue,”’ he writes.

‘It is terrifying to hear how easily words calling for the destruction of people and territories are spoken. Words, unfortunately, that often turn into warlike actions of heinous violence. This is why all belligerent rhetoric must be rejected, as well as every form of propaganda that manipulates the truth, disfiguring it for ideological ends.’

Pope Francis calls us to engage in communication that ‘helps create the conditions to resolve controversies between peoples’, urging us to listen to the other with a pure heart and to be courageous in speaking the truth, but to do so with charity—with love.

This leads those who listen to attune themselves to the same wavelength, to the point of being able to hear within their heart also the heartbeat of the other. Then the miracle of encounter can take place, which makes us look at one another with compassion, welcoming our mutual frailties with respect rather than judging by hearsay and sowing discord and division.

The message is timely as the Church’s journeys towards the Synod of Synodality, where Pope Francis has emphasised the ongoing need ‘to listen to and to hear one another’. ‘It is the most precious and life-giving gift we can offer each other,’ he writes.

‘Listening without prejudice, attentively and openly, gives rise to speaking according to God’s style, nurtured by closeness, compassion and tenderness. We have a pressing need in the Church for communication that kindles hearts, that is balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters.’

Australasian Catholic press reflect upon the Pope’s words

The Pope’s World Communications Day message is officially published by the Vatican on 24 January, the feast day of St Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church, intellectual, writer, theologian and patron saint of journalists. With this in mind, at their most recent online gathering, members of the Australasian Catholic Press Association welcomed Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Wellington, to share his reflections on the pope’s message among those working in media and communications.

Cardinal Dew highlighted the Pope’s continued emphasis on the need for mercy and tenderness in our communications, and in creating the opportunity for an encounter.

He recalled having read words spoken by then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio at a retreat in Argentina, some years ago—words that have stayed with him. ‘At that retreat, he [Bergoglio] said, “Everything in our life today, just as in Jesus’ time, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like all others, and yet different. The first ones—John, Andrew and Simon—felt themselves to be looked at, into their very depths, read in their innermost being, and in them sprung forth a surprise, a wonder that instantly made them feel bound to him, made them feel different.”

‘At that time, he wanted them to experience the wonder and the awe of the presence of God, and I believe Pope Francis is actually saying the same thing in this message for World Communications. Because in that same retreat, he said, “We cannot understand the dynamic of encounter, which brings forth wonder and adherence, if it has not been triggered by mercy.”’

Cardinal Dew encouraged all to listen and speak with open hearts, and to speak the truth in love, communicating with courage and ‘with heart’. This, he said, is ‘the only way that we encounter each other and help one another to encounter something more, someone more’, and ‘to be caressed by the mercy of God’.

Just imagine if personally and professionally, we intentionally started all of our communications, whether it be an email, an interview, a report, an opinion piece, a commentary on something—whatever it might be—with the goal to help others through our communications to be caressed by the mercy of God. Our world would be a better place.

Thinking of the various ways in which the Catholic media communicate, he posed the question: ‘When we communicate, is it an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love?’ He encouraged Catholic media and communications professionals to look to their patron saint, St Francis de Sales, whose ‘meek attitude, humanity and willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone, especially with those who disagreed with him, made him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love.’

Cardinal Dew 1
Cardinal John Dew addresses members of the Australasian Catholic Press Association via Zoom.

Cardinal Dew also reflected on the ‘great challenges of today’, echoing Pope Francis’ view that we must not succumb to indifference, particularly when it comes to those who suffer in our world. ‘That’s why he tells the media, those working in communications—everyone—that that we should use our hearts to seek and to speak with charity in order to build and make a better world.’

Indeed, the message is not only for those working in media and communications, but for everyone. As the Pope observes in his message, ‘In a historical period marked by polarizations and contrasts—to which unfortunately not even the ecclesial community is immune—the commitment to communicating “with open heart and arms” does not pertain exclusively to those in the field of communications; it is everyone’s responsibility.’

According to Cardinal Dew, ‘Pope Francis’ message invites us to reflect on how our words, which are capable of doing good for others, can touch the most hardened of hearts.’

‘When Pope Francis says “communicating in a cordial manner”, it means that those who read or listen to us are led to welcome our participation in the joys, fears, hopes and suffering of the women and men of our time. These words clearly reflect the very beginning of the document Gaudiem et Spes of the Second Vatican Council.

So really, Pope Francis is telling us that whatever means of communication that we are using, we are to be looking for the things that occupy people, whether they be joys or hopes or griefs or anxieties, because that’s what’s happening in people’s lives. That’s what we need to touch.

In his message, Pope Francis offers the opportunity for all of us, but particularly those working in communications, to ask, ‘What is your mission?’ ‘And clearly, if we go back to those words at the beginning of Gaudiem et Spes,’ Cardinal Dew pointed out, ‘the mission for any of us who try to live the Gospel is to build a more just, more fraternal and more human future.’

Prayer for World Communications Day

May the Lord Jesus, the pure Word poured out from the heart of the Father, help us to make our communication clear, open and heartfelt.

May the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, help us listen to the beating of hearts, to rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters, and to disarm the hostility that divides.

May the Lord Jesus, the Word of truth and love, help us speak the truth in charity, so that we may feel like protectors of one another.

(Source: 2023 World Communications Day message.)

Each year, the Vatican, and many dioceses around the world mark World Communications Day on the Sunday before Pentecost (this year, 21 May 2023). However, in Australia, it is celebrated on the sixth Sunday of Easter to avoid a clash with the feast of the Ascension.