For the year 2020 World Communications Day, the Pope’s message is titled, “That you may tell your children and grandchildren (Ex 10:2): Life becomes history”; a title which is “drawn from the Book of Exodus.” This passage from thatprimordial biblical story in which God intervenes in the history of his people, “teaches us that knowledge of the Lord is handed down from generation to generation mainly by telling the story of how he continues to make himself present.” Therefore, from the onset of this important message, which is an invaluable contribution to the theology of communication, Pope Francisleaves no one in doubt that the five-paragraphed document is devoted to calling people’s attention to the need to revive that age long form of communication – Storytelling. Stories are very important to human life, because “human beings are storytellers” by nature.
Stories foster growth and self-discovery in the human persons, thereby enriching them for the struggles of daily living. No one really outgrows the love for stories because these are naturally refreshing, captivating to the human heart, inspiring and influencing human choices in daily life struggles. It means that stories are not just the texts of words or prints, as if they were abstract and distinct from humanity, rather, they are real extensions of human persons in the various circumstances they find themselves. Further extolling the powerful impact of this awesome medium, the Holy Father says that “stories influence our lives, whether in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news, even if we do not always realize it,” and that they “leave their mark on us; they shape our convictions and our behaviour.”
Nevertheless, there are good stories and there are bad stories. Good stories are constructive because they help to build up relationship and society, but bad stories are “destructive and provocative” because they “wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society.” The spewing of bad stories can be traced to the serpent’s encounter with the woman in the book of Genesis. We are familiar with the story, how the serpent approached the woman and, to distort the truth, madefalse promises, thereby threatening the authentic story of humanity; the story of God’s infinite love and our need to reciprocate. In view of this, the Pope observes that we are “in an age when falsification is increasingly sophisticated,” an age where people “peddle unverified information, repeating banal and deceptively persuasive arguments, sending strident and hateful messages.” Indeed, we are in an age where people create and manipulate stories so as to corrupt human minds and for exploitation.
The Holy Father therefore insists that this ugly situation calls for a conscious and robust response from Church leaders, pastoral agents, media practitioners, and from all men and women of goodwill. Consequently, the great challenge this document puts before all of us is the need to earnestly work towards countering the many bad stories in our society with “a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us.” All men and women of goodwill are called to tell “stories that build up, not tear down,” stories that “help us rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together.” A fair combination of wisdom, creativity, courage, patience and discernment are necessary qualities required in order to attain these objectives.
The paradigm proposed in the document is based on the form of God’s encounter with human beings, as “a creator and a narrator,” on the Pope Francis’ message for 2020 World Communications Day: Summary and comments one hand, and that of Jesus, his Son, as the perfect communicator and the center of all stories in the scriptures, on the other hand. Jesus Christ by his incarnation, and in words and deeds, told the stories about God in concrete terms and not in the abstract. We are therefore encouraged to foster a culture where people are turned from being mere consumers of media contents, into critical consumers as well asactive producers of media contents. The document mandates that we become actively involved in ensuring that the story of God’s love for us which became a reality in the incarnation, fuses with our own individual stories thereby making every human story the story of God.
This story is a reality the world yearns for which critically needs to be constantly retold in every age using every modern media opportunity available. In the words of the Pope, “these stories cry out to be shared, recounted and brought to life in every age, in every language, in every medium.” In this light it is worthy of note that the new media forms do not and should not eradicate or displace the previous media forms but sublate them so that old qualities persist in new media that also have emergent potentials and qualities. Furthermore, in order to counter the numerous negative stories, the document challenges us to employ all means and opportunities available to write our own stories while ensuring that we “make our own the truth contained in good stories.” This is a special task before all media personnel and organs in the Church. It particularly challenges priests to rediscover the beauty and power of stories in their homilies; religious educators and pastoral agents need to creatively explore means of re-presenting the story of God’s love to catechumen of all ages, especially children, in the language best suited to them and by employing the appropriate medium.
Additionally, the story, not just the saints, but of simple men and women of noble character in our communities and society need to be accorded the front pages of our newspapers and on our media platforms. Film producers, actors and youths may explore the use of media forms like short video clips or dance drama in re-telling the many great biblical stories and parables of Jesus, in fostering positive values in the society and also in rebuking the many ills plaguing our society. Media practitioners need to be present on the social media to tell the stories of goodness while countering and correcting the many falsehood therein. Towards this end, media education has undoubtedly become an indispensableventure which must be vigorously embarked upon so as to build a people who are more discerning in their choices and consumption of media diet. Similarly, adequate structures need to be put in place to facilitate the building of media skills.
On our media platforms, we need focus our gaze beyond the VIPs and star buster characters in our community and larger society, so that we can also capture the many silent heroes in our parishes and communities for prominent reportage. This is particularly so because stories do not have to always be sweet or rosy, rather they should be truthful and aimed at giving hope. Pope Francis encourages that even stories of human frailty need to be told with an eye of love, making room for mercy because human story is daily evolving and never fully told. Therefore even when it seems hopeless, the mercy of God must never be doubted since “every human story has an irrepressible dignity.” In conclusion, the document calls on humanity to embrace our Mother Mary, the undoer of the knots, to help disentangle the knotty situations of human life and story. In the words of the Holy Father, “let us entrust ourselves to a woman who knit together in her womb the humanity of God and …..who knew how to untie the knots of life with the gentle strength of love.”