Pope Francis quotes Dostoyevsky

Pope Francis quotes Dostoyevsky

By Fr. Rif’at Bader

The Vatican’s 2018 Message for World Communications Day is educational par excellence. It is to be reminded that this message has been issued annually on January 24 since 1967 and signed by His Holiness the Pope. This day commemorates the birthday of French Saint Francis of Assisi (the 16th century). He was named as bishop of Geneva and was well-known for his educational messages that is why he was considered a pioneer in the field of communications.

Pope Francis’ message for this year is titled, “The truth will set you free. Fake news and journalism for peace.” The message includes three parts.

In the first part of the message there is a warning of fake news, which provides unfounded delusive information posted on websites or traditional media outlets. These pieces of information rely on disseminating distorted news meant to deceive and manipulate the readers. The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage. The message likens the strategy applied in disseminating fake news to the "snake-tactics" of the “crafty serpent”, namely the sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments” – in the same way that fake news does—which consequently breeds evil deeds directed towards the Almighty God, society, and all creatures.

The second part focuses on “the truth will set you free”. It states that constant contamination by deceptive language can end up darkening our interior life. Pope Francis quotes Dostoevsky’s observation in his illuminating play titled, “The Brothers Karamazov” in which he says, "People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others.” Pope Francis referred to this quote to encourage telling the truth and avoiding the scourge of disseminating “fake news” in media outlets. The message also calls for making sure that disseminated news bolsters unity, as well as promotes goodness and harmony.

The third part deals with “peace is the true news”. The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language. The message calls on journalists to be sincere and honest in spreading news branding them as “protectors of news” where in today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission. Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons. Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.

The message ends with a prayer which says:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgments.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.

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