Address at the granting of honrary doctorates at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (April 9, 2008)

At the Granting of Honorary

Doctorates by the Pontifical

University of the Holy Cross

Your eminences and most reverend bishops, Esteemed civil authorities, professors, students and all of the personnel of the university, Ladies and Gentlemen:

A cordial greeting to all of you who are participating in the granting of the first honorary doctorates in Institutional Communications by our university. A special greeting with great affection to the new doctors: His Eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar of the Pope for the Diocese of Rome and, for many years, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference; and the illustrious Professor Alfonso Nieto Tamargo, who collaborated actively, also as a professor, in the birth and development of the School of Institutional Communication.

In today’s ceremony, the merits of the new doctors are intertwined with the academic tradition represented by the biretta, the ring, and the medal, symbols of mastery, of professional prestige and of the bond with out university community. But allow me to go beyond the protocol and reflect with you briefly about the duty that corresponds to a university in the present historical circumstances.

Some words of St. Gregory the Great can help us to consider how ancient and deep is the connection between the Church and communication. This great Pope, who occupied the Chair of Peter between the years 590 and 604, said that “paintings should be introduced into the churches so that those who cannot read can, by looking at the walls, read that which they are not capable of reading in the manuscripts.”[1] This brief observation can be a good example of how communication in the Church has not been a discovery of our own days. In fact, since the beginning, Christians have daringly sought the most efficacious ways to make the word of God reach, in an understandable way, the greatest number of persons, even those who found themselves physically distant. In this sense, one can affirm with reason that there exists a continual intertwining of the history of the Church and the history of communication, understood in a broad sense.

But the Church does not limit itself to “making use” of the media of communication for its mission of evangelization. John Paul II stated, in a noted passage of the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, that it was necessary to do more: to integrate the Christian message itself into the “new culture” created by the media of communication.[2]The Pope added, perhaps to avoid discouragement and false expectations, that it was a matter of a complicated question, because this “new culture” was a result not so much of content, but more of the new means of communicating, with new languages, with new techniques and with new psychological behaviors.[3] I think, in fact, that anyone who finds himself in one of these fields of research and theorizing, needs patient work and an interdisciplinary approach that only the university environment can offer.

Therefore, it is even more evident that the act of investiture that brings us together today, is not of interest solely to one sphere of knowledge, that of communication, but also to theology, philosophy, and canon law. John Paul II’s invitation is today more timely than ever. It is necessary to realize in our epoch a synthesis between the message, the media of communication, and the cultural context that the many generations preceding us have brought into being.

As a popular philosopher of communication wrote: “What happens if we put a drop of red coloring into a test tube full of clear water? Do we obtain clear water plus a drop of red coloring? Obviously not. We have a new coloration of every molecule of the water. A new media does not just add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the invention of the printing press, we did not have old Europe plus the printing press. We had a different Europe.”[4]

We can ask ourselves now if this metaphor of coloring does not also apply to the effect that the Christian spirit produces in the waters—at times muddied—of our culture. How can one integrate the Christian message into the “new culture” created by the media of communication. John Paul II himself proposed a way: “We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know in depth the hearts of the men of today, who participate in their joys and hopes, concerns and sorrows, and at the same time are persons in love with God. For this, we need new saints.”[5]

Along these lines, I would like to underline an aspect upon which Pope Benedict XVI has insisted, that is the positive meaning of the Christian message. He said this explicitly to a group of German language journalists a few months after his election. “Christianity, Catholicism, is not a set of prohibitions, but a positive option. It is very important to help people realize this once again, since today this outlook has almost completely disappeared. We have heard so much talk of what is not permitted that now one has to say: But we have a positive idea to propose.”[6]

St. Josemaría Escrivá, from whose priestly soul and from whose university vocation the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross was born, always had a clear perception of the great human and Christian service that professionals in communication could carry out. In fact, in the academic year 1940-1941 he gave, at the request of a friend and with the encouragement of the Bishop of Madrid, lessons of ethics and deontology in what later became the official school of journalism. He held that the children of God should be present with professionalism, Christian identity, and love of the truth in those places where public opinion is formed. “It is difficult,” this holy priest reminded us, “for people really to live together harmoniously when there is no real information. And real information does not fear the truth and does not allow itself to be led away by motives of intrigue, false prestige or economic advantage.”[7]

This entails, in the academic setting, harmonizing the gift of faith with the daily effort to deepen one's knowledge of the communications field. Thus we will help to “to make the truth lovable,” as our first Chancellor, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, advised in the title of a book that collected some of his addresses at this university. How much gratitude we owe to this bishop, so exemplary in his service to the Church and to souls! Following his example, let us entrust these resolutions to our Lord and to Holy Mary, the Seat of Wisdom.

[1] St. Gregory the Great, To the Serene Bishop, Dz 477, PL 77, 1128BC-1129C.

[2] Cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 37.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neil Postman, “Defending Ourselves Against the Seductions of Eloquence,” in Kenneth Dyson and Walter Homolka, Eds. Culture First! Promoting Standards in the New Media Age, Cassel, London, 1996, p. 34.

[5] John Paul II, Address to the Symposium of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conference, October 11, 1985.

[6] Benedict XVI, August 5, 2005.

[7] St. Josemaría, Conversations with Josemaría Escrivá, no. 86.

Romana, n. 46, January-June 2008, p. 95-97.

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