Church communicators need to be bridge-builders

By Michael Otto, 31 October 2020
Image: Unsplash.


Social networks have changed the pace of communication, making reaction times for communicators very much shorter – by necessity – even at an institution as ancient as the Holy See.

Much has changed in the last decade–and–a–half, said the director of the Vatican press office, Matteo Bruni, in a Zoom talk from Rome to members of the Australasian Catholic Press Association on 1 September.

“In 15 years, we have moved from fax machines to taking a photo with a phone and sending it by WhatsApp or tweeting it,” Mr Bruni said.

“Not even a generation ago, the Holy See press office would close in the afternoon, and no one would need to stay over to see what was happening in the world.”

[But now] . . . “we are drawn into responding in real-time to what we see and what we hear, so our version of the facts will receive the attention we feel is necessary”.

Mr Bruni told the 1 September Zoom meeting that engaging in real-time with people on the other side of the world, as he was doing at that moment, pointed to “a number of things concerning Catholics and Catholic communication”.

“We can be united in one body because, in spite of the distance, there is more we share in terms of our choices than what divides us,” he said.

“[And] . . . thanks to what we share, we have a way of seeing things differently to the way the world sees them, and therefore our communication can be different from that of the world.

“In  times of distancing, as communicators employing platforms that can unite, from telephones to social media, in some ways, we are given a fresh chance again to further unity, in Christian and, therefore, human ways, on a different basis to what the world offers and in most complex circumstances.”

He cited the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (#42): “The union of the human family is greatly fortified and fulfilled by the unity, founded on Christ, of the family of God’s sons.”

“So together, while apart, we are given a task – how to use the network – a network of relations and the virtual network – to keep alive, in spite of the distance, embodied relationships between people in search of truth?

“We need to link the good – the good deeds, the good thoughts, which are not only the best practices but also good ideas, the truth, the possibility of redemption from evil, from down under to the rest of the world – but we need to link people as well, to keep our togetherness alive and make it grow.”


In a sense, this is what Church media are for, he said, speaking of the need for “encounter” and “relationships” in Church communications.

“It must be clear to us, and I say this for the spokespersons, including myself primarily, that to communicate is not to make a statement and wait for reactions.

“What we need to establish is a relationship – a sincere, profound, stable, even old-fashioned (I would call it) relationship.

“More specifically for us, we must keep in mind that Catholic communication is not only about providing information. There are very capable media around in this regard.

“Catholic communication is about building networks also, in communion with each other. In other days, we would have called them ‘communities’, where everything is brought together by the Holy Spirit, which alone can make us capable of seeing beyond appearances, even each other’s appearances, and can show us the ‘much’ we share, without fear of the ‘little’ that makes us different.”

Pope Francis shaking hands with Matteo Bruni during his visit to Romania. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News.

But, while many Catholic communicators embrace this goal, in a fragmented world there is the “virus of division”.

“We see it at work, even in communication, and in Catholic communication, in the facile search for scapegoats, for culprits, sinners, in the temptation in becoming an isolated group, rather than the leaven that permeates the dough in order to give it new life.”

Christians are not commanded to like one another, but to love one another, Mr Bruni noted.

“. . . [I]n a world where the strength of one’s identity is measured on how effective it is in defining opposition, Christian identity is measured by its effectiveness in including and building a communion of diversities. It is called ‘mission’.”

Catholic communicators are called to be professional, and at the same time humble, while always keeping in mind a broad view of their role.

Mr Bruni referred to the universality of Catholicism – a universal communion of diversities under the guidance of Peter.

“And Catholic communicators are best poised to build bridges to overcome conflicts and polarisation, from which the Catholic community itself is not immune, as Pope Francis himself said.”


Given the universality of the Church, the “wellbeing or pain of one member always reverberates throughout the rest of the body”.

“What happens in Australia, but also in Africa, in the US, in Latin America, affects those who live on the opposite side of the world.”

Mr Bruni stressed that now, more than ever, “we need strong communications teams to lead us back to the unity in which everything exists. The media can be the infrastructure for sharing stories, actions, faith, works, truth and truth-based relationships”.

“’Sharing’ is the key word. We can connect with each other all over the world and use our media, wherever they are, from Australia to Rome, both ways, to build or re-build a Christian culture, based on love and sharing, on protecting every human life and what surrounds it, and makes it whole and beautiful.

“But we must also learn how to use the media to share more of our neighbourhoods, our streets, our condos, witnessing our ‘being Church’. Now, more than ever, it is time for the Church to get out of its walls, exploring the walls of others. Not to think static, but dynamic. It is time to build communion through all the instruments of communication to invent collaborative projects.”

This involves, said Mr Bruni, quoting Pope Francis from a recent message, “a narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze”.

By Michael Otto. Reproduced with permission from the September 20 – October 3 (issue 598) edition of NZ Catholic, the national Catholic newspaper of New Zealand, published by the Catholic Bishop of Auckland.


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