WHAT IS WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY? A HISTORICAL OUTLOOK

A study and brief reflection on the history of World Communication days in the Catholic Church, by Rev. Fr. John Mary Busobozi, Executive Secretary, Social Communications Department, Hoima Catholic Diocese

Introduction

Every year, on the Sunday before Pentecost, which is, according to Church or liturgical calendar, Ascension Sunday, the Church celebrates the achievements of the communications media and focuses on how it can best use them to promote gospel values. In the history of the Church, this celebration has traditionally been instituted as World Communications day.

As we celebrate the 53rd World Communications day, hosted by Hoima Catholic Diocese, let’s look back and briefly reflect on the historical background of this important celebration in the Catholic Church. What is World Communications day? When did it start? Which Pope established it? Why was it established? What is its historical significance? What is its relevance today? Why is it celebrated every year? How is it celebrated? What is the main emphasis in these celebrations?

What is World Communications day?

World Communications Day is the day on which the Universal Church celebrates to underline the prime importance of the Church’s mission to evangelize as commanded by the Lord Jesus on his return to the Father (Mk 16,15). It is, therefore, an annual celebration that encourages us, believers, to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of social communication, such as the press, motion pictures, radio, television, and the internet, afford the Church to communicate the gospel message.

Who established World Communications day and when?

World Communications day was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967.

Why was it established? What was the historical context?

World Communications day celebration came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). This was the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, announced by Pope John XXIII on Jan. 25, 1959, as a means of spiritual renewal for the church and as an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join, in search for reunion. This 21st Ecumenical council realized it must engage fully with the modern world. This realization is expressed in the opening statement of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (i.e. Joy and Hope) on “The Church in the Modern World”, which says: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anguishes of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anguishes of the followers of Christ as well.”

Gaudium et Spes (literary to mean Joy and Hope), the Pastoral Constitution on “The Church in the Modern World”, was one of the four constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council.

About the 2nd Vatican Council:

The Second Vatican Council took place from 1962 to 1965 in four sessions (October-December 1962, September-December 1963, September-November 1964, and September-December 1965). Sixteen major documents were produced: two dogmatic and pastoral constitutions, nine decrees and three declarations.

The four major pastoral and dogmatic constitutions by date of promulgation were:

  • Sacrosanctum Concilium, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, on December 4, 1963.
  • Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, on November 21, 1964.
  • Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, on November 15, 1965.
  • Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, on December 7, 1965.

A reflection on Gaudium et spaes – the church desire to engage the human family and cooperate in solving contemporary problems through social communication

Gaudium et spes, the last of the documents promulgated by the Council, and of all of them, the most vast, the Council Fathers express a desire to engage in conversation with the entire human family so that the Church can help shed light on the human mystery and cooperate in solving contemporary problems. With this document the Bishops of the entire world, gathered tightly around the successor of Peter, expressed the solidarity of the Church towards men and women who lived in a world that had been scarred by two huge conflicts (two World Wars) and were going through a profound crisis of spiritual and moral values.

In this document the Church states that it is her role to scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel. The document notes that we are in a new age of human history, in which the social and cultural circumstances of life have profoundly changed. There are positive signs in this transformation such as a healthy evolution towards unity, a growing interdependence among people, and a more thorough development of human personality and to a growing discovery and vindication of our rights.

These positive signs noted by the Council are countered by several negative signs. Among these are the fragmentation which has developed within individuals, families, races, and nations. Many find it difficult to identify permanent values and apply them to changing circumstances, and the split between people’s faith and their daily lives. Social disturbances and wars mar the planet and often result from pride and selfishness.

The Council sets out to establish a working relationship with the world in which it finds itself, for the Church goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. The Church serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society. The two questions it asks are still valid today in a world that is so different from that which the Second Vatican Council addressed: 1. Are the changes happening in the contemporary age all useful for the good of humanity?   2. Can you have a more perfect temporal order without it going hand in hand with spiritual progress?

The document is an overview of the Catholic Church’s teachings about man’s relationship to society, especially in reference to economics, poverty, social justice, culture, science & technology, and ecumenism. Subsequently the church has maintained this interaction with human kind and marked an annual celebration to highlight this objective which can only be achieved through its mandate to communicate the gospel to all humanity.

When was World Communications day first celebrated? And why it is celebrated every year?

World Communications day was first celebrated on Sunday 7th May 1967. Cf. 1st World Communications day Message by Pope Paul VI.

In setting it up on Sunday 7th May 1967, less than two years after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI, knowing that the Church is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history, wanted to draw attention to the communications media and the enormous power they have for cultural transformation.

World communications day became an annual celebration because He (Pope Paul VI) and his successors have consistently recognized the positive opportunities the communications media afford for enriching human lives with the values of truth, beauty and goodness, but also the possibly negative effects of spreading less noble values and pressurizing minds and consciences with a multiplicity of contradictory appeals.

A look at some Papal / Pastoral reflections on the significance of Communication and Media in the Modern world

Pope John Paul II (1990) in his encyclical Redemptoris missio 37 said: “The world of communications is the first Areopagus of the modern age, unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a ‘global village’. The communications media have acquired such importance as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, family and social behaviour. In particular, the younger generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media.”

Increasingly aware of the world as a global village and the power of the media as a free market place for philosophies and values, the Church has sought to be in there with its message and to use the media to proclaim the values it sees are beneficial for human development and for the eternal welfare of people.

Two important documents of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications – Communio et Progressio (1971) and Aetatis Novae (1992) have presented an analysis of the world of the communications media and made recommendations for the Church’s action. The Vatican itself has set a headline in updating its use of the full range of the communications media.

In 2002, The Pontifical Council for Social Communications produced two documents on the Internet. The first is an analysis of the opportunities and challenges the Internet presents for evangelisation and is entitled The Church and Internet. The other sets out an ethical code which should guide its use and is entitled Ethics in Internet.


Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for World Communications Day focused on children and the media, urging parents to form their children to be discerning in their use of the media. And those working in the media always to promote human dignity, to refrain from producing materials that lower moral standards, such as those which promote violence or the trivialization of sexuality.

How is world communications day celebrated today? What are the main objectives?

The nature and details of celebrations vary from place to place. The main emphasis however is the need to 1. Pray for the work of evangelization as commanded by Jesus on his return to the Father (Luke 16, 15); and 2. To support through an obligatory financial collection to support the work of evangelization.

In Uganda for example, the Catholic Church through the arrangement and implementation by the Uganda Episcopal Conference Social Communications Commission, World Communications day is first celebrated, on an earlier date, at a National level being preceded by a National Communication Week organized in one of the four Ecclesiastical Provinces on a rotational basis. The purpose is to retreat, meet and reflect widely on our mission to evangelize through media and communication channels. Later on, on the real Ascension Sunday, each diocese marks this annual celebration in their respective local dioceses.

A Prayer for Communications Sunday

O God, whose word is truth
and in whose light we see light,
guide those who tell the story of our times through word and image.
Make them seekers after truth and advocates of human dignity.
Grant discernment to all who rely on their labors,
and, as we confront the pain and promise of this world,
awaken in us a sense of wonder at your presence
and of longing for your peace.

Wishing you fruitful World Communications day celebrations 2019!

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