Saturday, May 18, 2019

Greetings to members of the Foreign Press

At 11:35am this morning (5:35am EDT), in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience the members of the Foreign Press Association in Italy.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to members of the
Foreign Press Association

Dear brothers and sisters,

With pleasure I welcome you, together with your families, a few days after the celebration, in many countries, of World Communications Day. I thank your outgoing President, Mrs. Esma Çakir, and your new President, Mrs. Patricia Thomas, for the words they addressed to me.

First of all, I want to tell you that I value your work; the Church esteems you, even when you put your finger on the wound, and perhaps the wound is in the ecclesial community. Yours is precious work because it contributes to the search for truth, and only the truth makes us free. In this regard, I like to repeat what Saint John Paul II said when he visited the headquarters of your Association 31 years ago: The Church is on your side. Whether you are Christian or not, in the Church you will always find the right esteem for your work and the recognition of freedom of the press (17 January 1988: Insegnamenti XI, 1 [1988], 135).

Yours is an indispensable role, and this also gives you a great responsibility: it requires particular care for the words you use in your articles, for the images you transmit in your service, for everything you share on social media. This is why today I renew to you an exhortation that applies to everyone in the digital age: as Benedict XVI said, sometimes the mass media meditate to always make us feel spectator, as if all evil only concerned others, and certain things could never happen to us. Instead we are all actors and, in evil as well as in good, our behaviour has an influence on others (Speech in Piazza di Spagna, 8 December 2009: Insegnamenti V, 2 [2009], 672). I therefore urge you to work according to truth and justice, so that communication is really a tool to build, not to destroy; to meet, not to clash; to dialogue, not for a monologue; to orient, not to disorient; to understand each other, not to misunderstand; to walk in peace, not to sow hatred; to give voice to those who have no voice, not to be the megaphone for those who shout louder.

I was struck by the many references to humility present in your President's speech - after all, your headquarters is on Via dell'Umiltà! Humility is an essential virtue for the spiritual life; but I would say that it can also be a fundamental element of your profession. Some of you might tell me: Father, in our work there are other characteristics that count: professionalism, competence, historical memory, curiosity, writing skills, ability to investigate and ask the right questions, speed of synthesis, ability to make what happens to the vast public understandable ... Certainly. Yet humility can be the keystone of your business.

Each of us knows how difficult and how much humility the search for truth requires. And how much easier it is not to ask too many questions, to be satisfied with the first answers we encounter, to simplify, to remain on the surface, or to appear to do so; to settle for discounted solutions, which do not know the fatigue of a survey capable of representing the complexity of real life. The humility of not knowing everything first is what drives research. The presumption of knowing everything and that which blocks it.

Humble journalists do not mean mediocre journalists, but rather those who are aware that through an article, a tweet, a live television or radio appearance, you can do good but also, if you are not careful and scrupulous, you can do harm to others and sometimes to entire communities. I am thinking, for example, of how certain shouted titles can create a false representation of reality. A correction is always necessary when one is wrong, but it is not enough to restore dignity, especially at a time when, through the Internet, false information can spread to the point of appearing authentic. For this, you journalists should always consider the power of the tool you have available, and resist the temptation to publish an insufficiently verified news article.

In a time when many tend to pre-judge everything and everyone, humility also helps the journalist not to be dominated by haste, to try to stop, to find the time needed in order to understand. Humility brings us closer to reality and to others with an attitude of understanding. The humble journalist tries to correctly know the facts in their entirety before telling and commenting on them. It does not nourish the excess of slogans which, instead of setting the thought in motion, cancel it (Speech to the managers, employees and operators of TV2000, 15 December 2014). It does not build stereotypes. He is not satisfied with representations of convenience that portray individuals as if they were able to solve all problems, or on the contrary as scapegoats, on which to discharge all responsibility (Speech to managers, employees and operators of TV2000).

At a time when, especially in social media but not only in that sphere, many use violent and derogatory language, with words that hurt and sometimes destroy people, it is rather a matter of calibrating the language and, as your patron Saint Francis of Sales said in Philothea, using the word how the surgeon uses the scalpel (cf Chapter XXIX). In a time of too many hostile words, in which to speak ill of others has become for many a habit, together with that of classifying people, it must always be remembered that every person has his intangible dignity, which can never be taken away from him. At a time when many spread fake news, humility prevents you from selling the spoiled food of misinformation and invites you to offer the good bread of truth.

A humble journalist is a free journalist.  Free from conditioning.  Free from prejudices, and for this reason, one who is courageous.  Freedom requires courage!

I listened with pain to the statistics about your colleagues killed while doing their work with courage and dedication in many countries, to inform us about what happens during the wars and the dramatic situations that so many of our brothers and sisters experience in the world. Freedom of the press and of expression is an important indicator of a country's state of health. Let us not forget that with dictatorships, one of the first measures they take, is to remove the freedom of the press or to disguise it, do not leave the press free. We need a free journalism, at the service of the true, of the good, of the right; a journalism that helps to build the culture of encounter (Pontifex Tweet, 3 May 2019). We need journalists who are on the side of victims, on the side of those who are persecuted, on the side of those who are excluded, rejected, discriminated against. You and your work are needed in order to help us not to forget many situations of suffering which often do not have the light of the spotlight, or they have it for a moment and then return to the darkness of indifference. A question that one of you asked me a short time ago comes to my heart and memory: What do you think of forgotten wars? But what wars do you forget? Those wars that are still going on but people forget about, are not on the agenda in the newspapers, in the media. Be careful: don't forget reality, because now the blow has passed. No, reality continues, we continue. This is a nice service. In concrete terms, wars may be forgotten by society, but they are still ongoing.

This is why I want to thank you for what you do. Because you help us not to forget the lives that are suffocated before they are even born; those that, when they are just born, are extinguished by hunger, hardship, lack of care, wars; the lives of child soldiers, the lives of violated children. Help us not to forget so many women and men who are persecuted for their faith or because of their ethnicity. I ask myself a question: who is speaking today about the Rohingya? Who is talking about the Yazidis today? They are forgotten and continue to suffer. Help us not to forget that those who are forced - due to calamities, wars, terrorism, hunger and thirst - to leave their land are not mere numbers, but faces; each of them has a story, a desire for happiness. Your President talked about migrants: we must not forget the Mediterranean that is turning into a cemetery.

The humble and free journalist tries to tell what is good, even if more often it is the evil that makes the news. What has always comforted me in my ministry as a bishop is to find out how much good there is between us, how many people sacrifice themselves - even heroically - to assist a parent or a sick child, how many people engage in daily service to others, how many people stretch out their hands instead of turning away. Please continue to tell even that part of reality that thanks to God is still the most widespread: the reality of those who do not surrender to indifference, of those who do not flee before injustice, but who build patiently, in silence. There is a submerged ocean of good that deserves to be known and that gives strength to our hope. In this story, women are very attentive, and I am pleased to see that the contribution of women is fully recognized in your Association. Women see better and understand better, because they feel better.

In conclusion, I would like to assure you that I appreciate the commitment with which you carry out your work, which, lived in a spirit of service, becomes a mission. During my apostolic journeys, I realize the effort involved in your work. Furthermore, you live far away from your countries of origin and you find yourselves to be mirrors of the country in which you work, knowing how to grasp the positive and negative aspects. I invite you to be a mirror that knows how to reflect hope, to sow hope. And I wish you to be humble and free men and women, who are the ones who leave a good imprint on history.

I thank you for this meeting.  I bless you, your loved ones and your work.  And you too, please, pray for me.  And I want to give all of you my blessing.  I know that not all of you are believers, and for this reason, I will give the blessing in silence, for all of you.  May God bless all of you, bless all your hearts.  Amen.
Original text in Italian

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