March 11, 2014
Rule the world, not Argentina
By Marcelo J. García
Pope Francis was picked by an elite news organization and by the popular vote of Facebook trends as the personality of the year in a week Argentina seemed to descend into social unrest. Recognition abroad is a show of how little chance this country gives some of its leaders — unless they are not around any more.
The pope excels on the world stage by doing very much the same he used to do when his chair was in the “end-of-the-world” Buenos Aires cathedral instead of the Holy See.
His influence here is arguably much greater now that he belongs to the 1.2 billion strong Catholic following worldwide than it was when he walked the streets of Buenos Aires, preaching virtually the same lines he now uses to lure the global audiences.
Time magazine picked him as the person of the year — the first Argentine to get to that spot since it was first installed in 1927. “Behind his self-effacing facade, (Pope Francis) is a very canny operator. He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office,” reads one of the explanations presented by Time to explain the choice. Other passages were more poetic: “In less than a year, he has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music.”
The Pope has made perfect use of the new communication tools to spread his words. But the words are, paradoxically, fairly critical of the media environment of our era.
In Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel, the 224-page apostolic exhortation published last month and so far the main policy document published by the pope on his own (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf ), Francis writes media theory and practice for his preachers worldwide: “In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning.” “We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.” (Page 30) “The proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications.” (Page 158)
The emphasis above is added to show the kind of language the Pope is using when it comes to analyzing the media - now at the global level but with the experience he accumulated in the harsh media environment at home.
In his writing, the Pope focused on two aspects of communication that seem fairly forgotten in Argentina today: dialogue and listening. Says the Pope, “Dialogue is much more than the communication of a truth. It arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another through the medium of words. This is an enrichment which does not consist in objects but in persons who share themselves in dialogue. A preaching which would be purely moralistic or doctrinaireà or one which turns into a lecture on biblical exegesis, detracts from this heart-to-heart communication” (Page 112).
He adds, “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.” (Page 134)
And he slams pure ideology and rhetoric, disconnected from reality. “Ideas are at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis. Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism.” What calls us to action are realities illuminated by reason. Otherwise, the truth is manipulated, cosmetics take the place of real care for our bodies. We have politicians — and even religious leaders — who wonder why people do not understand and follow them, since their proposals are so clear and logical. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the realm of pure ideas and end up reducing politics or faith to rhetoric.” (Page 175)
Every one of the pope’s English-language tweets gets an average 8,200 re-tweets, over three times more than President Barack Obama’s. “He is refocusing the global conversation,” said Radhika Jones, executive editor of the Time magazine. It is not clear he is managing to do the same back home.