Foreword (Church Communication in the New Normal)
Church Communication in the New Normal: Perspectives from Asian and Beyond. Bangkok: ARC Publications, 2022. Download full book.
Shortly after the release of his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis wrote a book with the British Journalist, Austen Ivereigh, entitled Let Us Dream: A Path to a Better Future. Among the many profound insights in this book, two are particularly relevant to this present volume of articles on Church Communication in the New Normal: Perspectives from Asia and Beyond.
First, in the Prologue to his book, Pope Francis writes: “The question is whether you’re going to come through this crisis and if so, how. The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same. If you get through it, you come out better or worse, but never the same.” In a certain sense, the articles in this volume exemplify the truth of this statement of Pope Francis. They all attempt to explore how things, particularly in the area of communication, can be done differently and better in the new normal. Indeed, they heed Pope Francis’ insight that the COVID-19 pandemic is actually a call to re-organize the way we live life and the way we do things in life. It would indeed be a mistake if, after all of this is over, we simply bracket off the experience of the pandemic, file it away and archive it, and then go back to where we left off and continue with life as before. Rather, the challenge is for us to treasure this experience and allow it to shape the way we live life from hereon. This is what the articles in this volume admirably attempt to do.
Secondly, in Part One of the book, Pope Francis states: “You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is. I’ve always thought that the world looks clearer from the periphery …. You have to make for the margins to find a new future.” And in Part Three of the book, he adds: “To embrace the margins is to expand our horizons, for we see more clearly and broadly from the edges of society.” This volume also exemplifies this approach to the construction of the new normal, that is, of seeing reality not from the center but from the periphery. Written by scholars from Asia or based in Asia, the articles in this volume are indeed an attempt to imagine a new world from the perspective of the periphery of the developed world and of the Universal Church. Voices from such places as South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, the Syro-Malabar Church, and even from indigenous peoples (e.g., the Australian Aborigines and the Kankanaeys in Northern Philippines) are made to resound in this volume, providing heretofore unconsidered perspectives for addressing global problems.
As such, then, this volume is a unique contribution to the building of a world of universal fraternity which, according to Pope Francis, is the Church’s mission in the new normal. As Pope Francis puts it: “Fraternity is today our new frontier” (Let Us Dream, III). He adds: “Now is the time for … a new humanism that can harness this eruption of fraternity, to put an end to the globalization of indifference and the hyperinflation of the individual. We need to feel again that we need each other, that we have a responsibility for others, including for those not yet born and for those not yet deemed to be citizens” (Let Us Dream, I). Further, he says: “To dream of a different future we need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organizing principle. Fraternity, the sense of belonging to each other and to the whole of humanity, is the capacity to come together and work together against a shared horizon of possibility” (Let Us Dream, II).
At the heart of this mission of fraternity is communication. For a world of human fraternity can only be built on the basis of a “culture of encounter.” As Pope Francis puts it, “the process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters” (FT 50). Further, he says: “In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference …. Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter. Isolation, no; closeness, yes. Culture clash, no; culture of encounter, yes” (FT 30).
But, aside from being a path to the building of fraternity, the culture of encounter—and, thus, communication—is actually a requirement of human nature. “Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except ‘in the sincere gift of self to others.’ Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: ‘I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others ….’ This is part of the mystery of authentic human existence. ‘Life exists where there is bonding, communion, fraternity; and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails’” (FT 87).
Crucial, then, to the promotion of a culture of encounter and thus to the building of a world of fraternity is how communication is carried out in life. Communication must help build a world not on the basis of power, control, competition and the accumulation of wealth, but rather on tenderness, compassion, solidarity and the sharing of resources. This requires that communication be carried out in a new way—a way of communicating that is less aggressive, less coercive, less destructive, and more respectful, more humble, more courteous. This is precisely what this volume offers—an exploration into ways of communicating that truly build a world of human fraternity.
We owe a profound depth of gratitude to Anthony Le Duc, SVD, the editor of this volume, as well as its various contributors, for offering us a truly valuable resource for imagining life in the new normal, which I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.
It responds to the appeal which Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, jointly made in the “Declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which they signed together on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi:
In the name of human fraternity, that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal; In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women;… In the name of God and of everything stated thus far, [we] declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard. (FT 285)
Indeed, it is not only possible but necessary to build a world of universal fraternity. As the recently concluded SIGNIS World Congress 2022 states: “We believe that it is possible to build a new society by creating awareness that inspires us to work together in peace with people of different cultures, beliefs, religions, and ideologies.
May this volume inspire the creation of a culture of dialogue and encounter toward the building of a world of universal fraternity.
Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
Divine Word Institute of Mission Studies
Tagaytay City, Philippines