Pope’s 2020 Message on Communications: Tell Good Stories

832-PopeSaidToTellStories-BillSchmittFrom Jan. 28, 2020 podcast–Bill Schmitt discusses Pope Francis’ call for communication

Pope Francis’ message for the 2020 World Communications Day urges Catholics to be good storytellers–that is, people who know a good story when they hear it and faithful communicators who spread the definitive story of salvation and hope among all generations and to all people.

The pope calls us to remember who and what we are in God’s eyes, to bear witness to what the Holy Spirit writes in our hearts, and to reveal that everyone’s story “contains marvelous things.” He builds upon an array of pastoral guidance he has provided in recent years to energize the flow of insight and information in our personal encounters and in our societies; our purpose is to strengthen the connections that can sustain well-grounded communities moving forward in truth, happiness, and love.

This message, 54th in a series of annual texts representing the Catholic Church’s desire to bring Gospel wisdom to and through global communications media, was posted on the Vatican website January 24, on the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalism. World Communications Day doesn’t arrive until the Sunday before Pentecost (May 24, 2020), but Pope Francis has never been slow or silent in his passion for renewal in the use of the mass media and the digital culture, which have shown tendencies to divide people and offend human dignity.

Here are some major “talking points” from the latest message, which takes as its title a passage from Exodus 10:2, instructing the Israelites to pass along the good news of God’s love and salvation–“That you may tell your children and grandchildren: Life becomes history.”

  • Pope Francis says: “I believe that, so as not to lose our bearings, we need to make our own the truth contained in good stories. Stories that build up, not tear down; stories that rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together. Amid the cacophony of voices and messages that surround us, we need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us. A narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze. A narrative that can tell us that we are part of a living and interconnected tapestry.”
  • Stories, in novels or news articles, films or songs, or in other forms, have the power to influence our behavior and sense of identity, to shape our convictions about right and wrong. We have a responsibility to spread good stories at a time when much storytelling is conducted to exploit or isolate people or to lead them toward greed, idle gossip, violence, and falsehood. “Often on communications platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society.”
  • We can identify the good stories that should be shared widely by learning from our faith. The Bible is “the great love story between God and humanity,” the story of a loving creator who intricately weaves us and gives us life “as an invitation to continue to weave the wonderful mystery that we are.” Jesus, whose parables reached people concretely through their everyday experiences, stands at the center of the love story. He is incarnated in human history to fulfill “both God’s love for us and our love for God.” Throughout time, we are “called to recount and commit to memory the most significant episodes of this Story of stories ….” Jesus, as the Word, is the “quintessential storyteller” who also “becomes the story” that is always timely.
  • “Since God became story, every human story is, in a certain sense, a divine story,” says the pope. “In the history of every person, the Father sees again the story of His Son who came down to earth. Every human story has an irrepressible dignity. Consequently, humanity deserves stories that are worthy of it, worthy of that dizzying and fascinating height to which Jesus elevated it.”
  • If we allow the Holy Spirit to write on our hearts, we are freed from regrets and sadness. “Telling God our story is never useless: Even if the record of events remains the same, the meaning and perspective are always changing. To tell our story to the Lord is to enter into his gaze of compassionate love for us and for others.”
  • In this way, we share in God’s story and spread it to others. “With the gaze of the great storyteller–the only one who has the ultimate point of view–we can then approach the other characters, our brothers and sisters, who are with us as actors in today’s story. For no one is an extra on the world stage, and everyone’s story is open to possible change. Even when we talk of evil, we can learn to leave room for redemption; in the midst of evil, we can also recognize the working of goodness and give it space.”

The pope concludes with a prayer to Mary, asking her to help untangle our paralyzed memories and to help us recognize “the good thread that runs through history.” He prays, “Help us build stories of peace, stories that point to the future. And show us the way to live them together.”

This call for “stories of peace” recalls the Holy Father’s message for the 2018 World Communications Day. There, he called upon journalists–and upon all people, since many of us today play a journalistic role by selecting and spreading particular stories via social media–to honor truth, shared values, human dignity, and genuine encounters of learning and listening. This would lead to a “journalism of peace,” he said.

Francis’s insistence that “no one is an extra on the world stage” recalls his 2019 World Communications Day message, which highlighted the need for real communities based on inclusion and trust. This need is great at a time when social media are promoting false communities which exclude, isolate, construct false realities, and engage people by enraging them. A real human community recognizes that its strength comes from the unique qualities and value of each individual called to play his or her part for a common good found in authentic communication, community, and communion.

The theme of storytelling and outreach through the tangible experiences spanning human history echoes the pope’s 2019 apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit. He expressed special concern about young people who are in danger of losing touch with ultimate realities and must be welcomed into flesh-and-blood communities to learn, contribute, and feel valued.

More recently, Pope Francis has urged young people to accept responsibility to participate in learning through families, schools, and communities; they should avoid addiction to their smart phones and keep them away from the family dinner table, he said late last year in an address on the Feast of the Holy Family.

In his suggestions for constructive sacrifices during Lent this year, he urged giving up the sense of indifference toward others that has spread globally. He advised fasting from defamatory, harmful “trolling” and gossip online. With such messages, he was instructing Catholics to be more open to sharing everyone’s stories by listening and being ready to share the quintessential story of God’s love and salvation which unites all human beings through time.


About Bill Schmitt

OnWord.net is the home for Bill Schmitt's blog and biographical information. This blog, initiated during Bill's nearly 14 years as a communications professional at Notre Dame, expresses Bill's opinions alone. Go to "About Bill Schmitt" and "I Link, Therefore I Am" to see samples of multimedia content I'm producing now and have produced during my journalism career and my marketing communications career. Like me at facebook.com/wgschmitt, follow me on Twitter @wschmitt, and meet "bill schmitt" on LinkedIn.
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