From the Vatican:
[Note: the Pope was recently himself a target of fictional ‘news’ with a report that he had been arrested for child pornography. Other reports have had former President Barack Obama detained for espionage, John F. Kennedy Jr. still alive and hiding in Pennsylvania, former President Trump about to declare martial law, and world leaders part of a pedophile ring that consumes babies, reports especially prevalent on social media and Youtube. Slander, baseless conspiracies, and specious medical information are also rife, often “deceiving the very elect.” There is also the issue of bias, especially in the mainline media.]
Here is the Message of the Holy Father Francis for 55 but World Communications Day, which this year is celebrated in many countries, on May 16, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord:
“Come and see” (Jn 1:46). Communicate by meeting people where and how they are
Dear brothers and sisters,
the invitation to “come and see”, which accompanies Jesus’ first exciting encounters with the disciples, is also the method of all authentic human communication. To be able to tell the truth of life becoming history (cf. Message for the 54th World Communications Day, 24 January 2020) it is necessary to get out of the comfortable presumption of the “already known” and get moving, go and see, stay with people, listen to them, collect the suggestions of reality, which will always surprise us in some of its aspects. “Open your eyes with amazement to what you will see, and let your hands fill with the freshness of the sap, so that when others read you, they will touch the palpitating miracle of life”, advised Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido [1 ]to his fellow journalists. I therefore wish to dedicate the Message, this year, to the call to “come and see”, as a suggestion for any communicative expression that wants to be clear and honest: in the editing of a newspaper as in the world of the web, in the ordinary preaching of the Church as in the political or social communication. “Come and see” is the way in which the Christian faith is communicated, starting from those first meetings on the banks of the Jordan River and the Lake of Galilee.
Consume the soles of your shoes
Let’s think about the great theme of information. Attentive voices have long complained of the risk of a flattening in “photocopy newspapers” or in TV and radio news and essentially the same websites, where the genre of investigation and reportage lose space and quality to the advantage of pre-packaged information, “di palazzo ”, Self-referential, which is less and less able to intercept the truth of things and the concrete life of people, and is no longer able to grasp either the most serious social phenomena or the positive energies that are released from the base of society. The publishing crisis risks leading to information built up in newsrooms, in front of computers, at agency terminals, on social networks, without ever going out on the street, without “wearing down the soles of shoes”, without meeting people to look for stories or verify certain situations face-to-face. If we do not open ourselves to the encounter, we remain external spectators, despite the technological innovations that have the ability to put us in front of an augmented reality in which we seem to be immersed. Each tool is useful and precious only if it pushes us to go and see things that we would not otherwise know, if it puts on the net knowledge that otherwise would not circulate, if it allows meetings that otherwise would not happen.
Those news details in the Gospel
To the first disciples who want to know him, after his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus replies: “Come and see” (Jn 1:39), inviting them to have a relationship with him. More than half a century later, when John, very old, draws up the his Gospel, recalls some “news” details that reveal his presence in the place and the impact that experience had on his life: “It was about the tenth hour”, he notes, that is, four in the afternoon (cf. . 39). The day after – continues John – Philip communicates the encounter with the Messiah to Nathanael. His friend is skeptical: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip does not try to convince him with reasoning: “Come and see”, he says (cf. vv. 45-46). Nathanael goes and sees, and from that moment his life changes. The Christian faith begins like this. And it communicates like this: as a direct knowledge, born from experience, not by hearsay. “It is no longer because of your speeches that we believe, but because we ourselves have heard”, the people say to the Samaritan woman, after Jesus had stopped in their village (cf. Jn 4: 39-42). The “come and see” is the simplest method to know a reality. It is the most honest verification of every announcement, because in order to know one must meet, allow the one in front of me to speak to me, let his testimony reach me.
Thanks to the courage of so many journalists
Journalism, too, as a story of reality, requires the ability to go where nobody goes: a move and a desire to see. A curiosity, an opening, a passion. We must say thanks to the courage and commitment of so many professionals – journalists, cameramen, editors, directors who often work at great risk – if today we know, for example, the difficult condition of the persecuted minorities in various parts of the world; if many abuses and injustices against the poor and against creation have been denounced; if so many forgotten wars have been told. It would be a loss not only for information, but for the whole of society and for democracy if these voices were to fail: an impoverishment for our humanity.
Numerous realities on the planet, even more so in this time of pandemic, are inviting the world of communication to “come and see”. There is the risk of recounting the pandemic, and thus every crisis, only with the eyes of the richer world, of keeping a “double accounting”. Let us think of the issue of vaccines, as well as medical care in general, of the risk of exclusion of the most destitute populations. Who will tell us about the expectation of healing in the poorest villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Thus the social and economic differences on a planetary level risk marking the order of distribution of anti-Covid vaccines. With the ever-last poor and the right to health for all, affirmed in principle, emptied of its real value.
Opportunities and pitfalls on the web
The network, with its innumerable social expressions, can multiply the capacity for storytelling and sharing: many more eyes open to the world, a continuous flow of images and testimonies. Digital technology gives us the possibility of first-hand and timely information, sometimes very useful: let’s think of certain emergencies in which the first news and even the first service communications to the populations travel right on the web. It is a formidable tool, which makes us all responsible as users and as users. Potentially we can all become witnesses of events that would otherwise be overlooked by traditional media, make our civil contribution, bring out more stories, even positive ones. Thanks to the network we have the opportunity to tell what we see, what happens under our eyes,
But the risks of a social communication without verification have now become evident to everyone. We have long ago learned how news and even images are easily manipulated, for a thousand reasons, sometimes even just for banal narcissism. This critical awareness pushes not to demonize the tool, but to a greater capacity for discernment and a more mature sense of responsibility, both when spreading and when content is received. We are all responsible for the communication we make, for the information we give, for the control we can exercise together over false news, unmasking them. We are all called to be witnesses of the truth: to go, see and share.
Nothing replaces seeing for yourself
In communication, nothing can ever completely replace seeing in person. Some things can only be learned by experiencing them. In fact, one does not communicate only with words, but with the eyes, with the tone of the voice, with gestures. The strong attraction of Jesus to those who met him depended on the truth of his preaching, but the effectiveness of what he said was inseparable from his gaze, his attitudes and even his silences. The disciples not only listened to his words, they watched him speak. In fact in him – the incarnate Logos – the Word became Face, the invisible God allowed himself to be seen, felt and touched, as John himself writes (cf. 1 Jn 1: 1-3). The word is effective only if you “see” it, only if it involves you in an experience, in a dialogue. For this reason the “come and see” was and is essential.
Let us think of how much empty eloquence abounds even in our time, in every sphere of public life, in commerce as well as in politics. “He can talk endlessly and say nothing. His reasons are two grains of wheat in two bushels of chaff. You have to search all day to find them, and when they are found, they are not worth the search. ‘ The lashing words of the English playwright are also valid for us Christian communicators. The good news of the Gospel has spread throughout the world through person-to-person, heart-to-heart encounters. Men and women who accepted the same invitation: “Come and see”, and were struck by a “more” of humanity that transpired in the gaze, word and gestures of people who witnessed Jesus Christ. All the tools are important, and that great communicator who was called Paolo di Tarso would certainly have used e-mail and social messages; but it was his faith, his hope and his charity that impressed the contemporaries who heard him preach and were lucky enough to spend time with him, to see him during an assembly or in an individual conversation. They checked, seeing him in action in the places where he was, how true and fruitful for life was the announcement of salvation of which he was the bearer by the grace of God. And even where this collaborator of God could not be encountered in person, his way of life in Christ was testified to by the disciples he sent (cf. 1 Cor 4:17).
“In our hands are the books, in our eyes the facts”, St. Augustine affirmed,  exhorting to find in reality the occurrence of the prophecies present in the Holy Scriptures. Thus the Gospel happens again today, whenever we receive the clear testimony of people whose lives have been changed by the encounter with Jesus. For more than two thousand years, a chain of encounters has communicated the fascination of the Christian adventure. The challenge that awaits us is therefore that of communicating by meeting people where and how they are.
Lord, teach us to come out of ourselves,
and to set out in search of the truth.
Teach us to go and see,
teach us to listen,
not to cultivate prejudices,
not to draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one wants to go,
to take the time to understand,
to pay attention to the essential,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish the deceptive appearance from the truth.
Give us the grace to recognize your homes in the world
and the honesty to tell what we have seen.
Rome, San Giovanni in Laterano, January 23, 2021, Eve of the Memory of St. Francis de Sales.