At the close of the 20th century, the delegates gathered for the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus asked their fellow Jesuits to note the technological changes underway and to “become critical consumers and, even more, critical practitioners of social communication.” In the decree below, the delegates argue that “the new communication environment is a milieu in which large numbers of people can be reached and enriched, and where literacy, knowledge, and solidarity can be fostered.” Included among the favorable media outlets (such as “posters, video and audio cassettes, and compact disks” along with “folk media, street plays, puppetry, or images in liturgy”) the delegates embrace radio as “an effective medium.”
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1. A road and a call. Our Father Ignatius identiﬁed the cultural shift of his time: the passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Recognizing the values of the emerging culture, with its concern for individuals and their spiritual growth, Ignatius oriented the Society of Jesus towards the future. He knew how to integrate gospel values and traditional cultural values with this new culture. Jesuits today are called to understand the changes that are occurring at the end of this twentieth century: the proliferation of electronic media and the so-called information revolution, as well as the new ways of learning and knowing that accompany them. This world of communication develops what is widely identiﬁed as a new culture, one that is nonlinear, image-oriented, intuitive, and affective in its understanding of the world.
2. Ambiguity. For all its marvels, this new world, characterized by an exponential development of the means of communication, is ﬁlled with ambiguities. Its media and language are often used in manipulative and undemocratic ways for negative and ephemeral ends. In addition, it often propagates a materialist or consumer-dominated mentality that fails to promote genuine human growth or make people receptive to the gospel message. Such false values sometimes threaten even our own Jesuit life. It is therefore necessary for us to become critical consumers and, even more, critical practitioners of social communication.
3. Sector or dimension? Communication in the Society has usually been considered a sector of apostolic activity, a ﬁeld for some specialists who have often felt isolated or on the margin of the apostolic body. The Society must rather acknowledge that communication is not a domain restricted to a few Jesuit professionals, but a major apostolic dimension of all of our apostolates. Clearly, not all Jesuits need to be directly engaged in media. Nevertheless, every Jesuit, in order to be effective, must be aware of and well versed in the language and symbols, as well as the strengths and weaknesses, of modern communication culture. This is to create a shift in our awareness, making us realize that the new communication environment is a milieu in which large numbers of people can be reached and enriched, and where literacy, knowledge, and solidarity can be fostered.
4. The service of faith. The proposed cultural renewal will allow Jesuits more effectively to share the faith they are called to serve. Sometimes this will involve the direct proclamation of the Gospel and its values to large groups through mass media, or to smaller groups through group media. At other times a more indirect approach might be taken to awaken individuals to a better personal assimilation of the Christian message. In all cases this will require us to use language understood by both communication professionals and the inhabitants of the global village. Jesus, who himself communicated his Father’s message through parables, miracles, and acts of compassion, must be our model.
5. Justice in communication. Communication is a powerful tool which must be used in the promotion of justice in our world. But we must also look critically at the authoritarian methods and unjust structures of communication and information organizations themselves. The promotion of justice within communication calls for the coordinated action of Christians and other people of goodwill in several areas. Freedom of the press and information must be promoted in countries where they are nonexistent or threatened by state control or ideological manipulation. An equitable ﬂow of communication between industrialized and developing countries needs to be established. At present, the rich countries dominate the world with their information, ﬁlms, and television programs. The voices and images of less powerful nations and cultures are largely absent from the global village. All Jesuits, especially philosophers, theologians, social scientists, those directly involved in the promotion of justice, as well as those involved in the production of creative works, should be conversant with communication ethics.
6. Media education. In the new media culture, it is important to educate media users to understand and make creative use of communication techniques and language, not only as individuals but also as participants in the social dialogue. Media education has as its goal a critical understanding which gives people the ability to sift out distortion, to identify hidden messages, and to make informed choices about media consumption. Such understanding returns power to the consumer and confers freedom from media manipulation and domination. Jesuit educators must be among the best “media-educated people” in order to participate in this broad educational task.
7. People-oriented media. The language of the new media culture can be spoken using simple and low-cost tools. Radio, especially used for popular education, is often an effective medium. More broadly, all Jesuits should learn to use alternative media such as posters, video and audio cassettes, and compact disks in their apostolic work. In some circumstances folk media, street plays, puppetry, or images in liturgy could be appropriate instruments for evangelization.
8. A mission: Vatican Radio. In response to the invitation from the Holy Father given at the beginning of this general congregation, the Society commits itself to continue serving the universal Church through Vatican Radio. It is a concrete means for the Society to implement its mission to serve the faith and promote justice in the ﬁeld of communication, within a framework of international collaboration.
9. To understand and to speak the language. We must provide well-organized communication curricula for all Jesuits in formation; we should also provide communication training as part of ongoing formation. In many places the Society has already begun to provide suitable training, integrated into the various stages of formation. These efforts must be sustained and, where lacking, adequate steps should be taken to ensure such training. Formation in communication will, among its important goals, ensure critical knowledge of the rhetoric of this new culture, foster an appreciation of its aesthetic dimension, develop the skills required for teamwork and for the effective use of media and information technology for the apostolate. Early in their formation, young Jesuits who show creative talent for communication work could be encouraged and enabled to pursue specialized training. Care should be taken to help Jesuits during their studies to integrate professional requirements and sound theological knowledge with the exigencies of religious life. The Society’s Secretariat for Social Communication (JESCOM), among its other tasks, is to serve as a resource in developing communication programs for Jesuit formation.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 34, Decree 15, “Communication: A New Culture,” pg. 623–625 [385–393].