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Homily of Cardinal Etchegaray at Jubilee of Journalists

Posted on: June 14, 2000 2:41 PM
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Dear Journalist Friends

This mass and meeting with Pope John Paul II will conclude your Jubilee. Here you are, it its now your turn to be pilgrims among many others in Rome.

You too have been called to retrace the steps of the Son leading to the mercy of the Father, and to a joy born of forgiveness from God, offered also to our brothers and sisters. This Jubilee Journey is often observed from a professional point of view and described in its external aspects; but no media is able to grasp the interior journey which today you experience personally. Your intimate conversation with the Risen One of Emmaus is the greatest news as well as the most difficult to communicate in your entire career as journalists. May each of you, as individuals, grasp and savour it in the silence of your hearts. I invite you to be the best possible Reporters of the events taking place within yourselves, offering yourselves the best scoop of your careers…the Father in heaven who sees in secret, will reward you…(Cf. Mt 6,18)

But who are you pilgrim journalists? Now it is my turn to be your interviewer, your reporter, also as to better understand - for this is part of my professional duty - how the gospel can enlighten you and accompany you in your profession. The old word "journalist", almost an amateur term, is in danger of masking a complex reality in full and rapid change.

Your press card is the same, but your work is in totally different sectors such as; radio, television, photography and computer technology. Your objectives vary according to the country and the public you touch, as specialists in a vast array of human activity, from politics to sport, from justice to entertainment, from medicine to weather, from advertising to gardening. It occurs to me to stick my head furtively into a newsagent's dark kiosk to guess what the micro-cosmos of journalism may be like, with its profusion and confusion of titles, with overlapping papers like the scales of a fish…"it is not easy for a fish", André Malraux used to say, "to behold his own aquarium"!

And what exactly is your occupation? It never stops changing both in its nature and in its conditions, especially with the upsurge of numeric and multimedia techniques which eliminate time and distance: "web-TV" assails the Internet, prefiguring a new media, a new type of journalist. Some even go so far as predicting that we are entering an ear without journalists. At times you feel frustrated and eve robbed of your ancestral function of selection, verifying and interpreting events. In the eyes of public opinion, the journalist's social mission is fading, the mission of that "tireless mediator between the clamour of the story and the meaning he is charged to give to it" (François Furet). Here you are face to face with a loss of identity and legitimacy which provokes, in your regard, diffidence, criticism - often contradictory, seeing in your reports "a dominant clericalism…journalists, those new priests", (Regis Debray), or else your reports are simple gaming-wheels of Companies reducing information to merchandise.

But we must pay attention to the de-ontological questions, especially when they come from within your own profession and are therefore exempt of corporate complacency. The ethical demands which you call for are all the more pressing since they express the anxiety of the very society of which you are the reflection.

  • Yes renounce all "political agendas" which base the order of the day in a news-room exclusively on the major themes which emerge from the survey polls.
  • Yes, react to conformity in a media which plagiarises, repeating itself, agreeing with each other to the point of nourishing only one source of information.
  • Yes, struggle against the dictatorship of urgency, of instant news, by no means a guarantee of truth. Check the truth of reflex actions by your own reflection. Give a hierarchy to your messages instead of cluttering them up in bulk.
  • Think of all those who today are only capable of "zapping" before the onslaught of news, or of "surfing" on the crest of waves of images.
  • Guide men and women of the third millennium to their own frontier, to the very depth of themselves, where freedom and responsibility, communication and communion, offer a passage to full humanity.

When media makers move on the world map according to political or commercial opportunities, is it not some buried misery left in the shadows, or some forgotten war, or some lost solidarity? Do not hesitate to break, with your questions and inquiries, the circles of their collective short sightedness or partisan egoism, helping us to see as far as there is a human being. You are called to be Guardians of a new world which is dawning: be on the watch from the highest window of your media!

Too often the one who owns and who dominates is the person exalted by the media. Rarely is it the one who lives according to the Beatitudes, going against the trend. Following a game of "demand and offer" could not be a guide for the communications media. Should you not instead, for the love of truth about human-kind, reveal the best that lies in the person, since everyone has a spot, however small, that is exposed to God's sun? What is more François Mauriac, the novelist of sin, writes: "The holiness of the world has not lessened…a river of grace flows without end toward this world"…This inexhaustible river, with a thousand meanderings in our daily life, in which so may human beings bathe, has not yet appeared sufficiently on the media scene: the Holy Year hopes to offer this river a majestical estuary.

Dear Friends, we could make a long list for an examination of conscience (forgive me, as this is not a media tem), I have merely drawn an outline, but it is in keeping with a Jubilee season. There is also a list of great trust in the media, longer still thanks to the obstinate efforts of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which offers us today it 34th World Day of prayer and action. Church and media have often held reciprocal grudges and much remains to be done, on both sides, "to domesticate each other", to use an expression of Saint-Exupery, without wondering too much who is the Fox and who is the Little Prince! Agreement can never be full since the Church, like her Lord, will always be nailed to the pillory of public opinion.

And if it is true that the Gospel is News, Good News to be entrusts to the media, the paradox of the church in regard to the media, is that she is never so faithful to her mission as when she bids us to attend the mystery, and leads us to interiority, to contemplation. Even then, every journalist, under every circumstance, is called to be the Angle of the Most High. I recall a programme, not about religion, in which just one word, one image was enough to give a touch of the extraordinary to the banality of an event, enabling the audience to discover a restlessness, amazement, a sense of the Sacred, silence. We live in an era which, feeling itself betrayed or disappointed by the "progress of rationality and the regression of meaning" (Paul Ricoeur) is helping the religious to emerge, rendering it present, "transversal" to all current events.

I will stop: a homily like a "briefing" should be…brief!

In conclusion, I render homage to all those journalists who with courage have obtained great victories against fear, injustice, violence, hunger, and illiteracy. I think of your families who share the uncertainty and risks of your profession. I recall nine years ago, celebrating mass on behalf of the Pope In East Slovenia in Osijek cathedral, riddled with shells, still smoking. For security reasons no-one was allowed near that altar except a handful for journalists: it was thanks to them, o that day, the Church's solidarity with a whole suffering people was expressed.

May thanks to you all, especially the 'Vaticanists' and the television networks in Rome. Thanks to the Jubilee is a truly religious event, an event which count for all humanity: certain shots of John Paul II in the Holy Land, permitted, undoubtedly for the first time in 2000 years, that the Gospel of Peace and Mercy could be seen everywhere, at the very same time, even to the ends of the earth.

Dear pilgrim journalists, thanks to you, filled with the tenderness of God, the Church in the Holy Year is emerging more clearly as that "reserve of heart" in which every man and every woman can feel recognised, not labelled, forgiven and loved passionately.

A church of witnesses, not of litigants!
A church of martyrs, not of survivors!
A church of saints!


Roger Cardinal Etchegaray