The Church’s Media Saint
FR JOHNSON VATTAKUNNAL, SSP
The Church, an ever growing, evolving and 'becoming perfect' reality, is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit where we constantly encounter His presence and action. Our God is the God of the new, and to keep the Church ever new and going forward, God calls and sends people who, rooted in His Word, will go forth and bear witness to His love and life. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Church opens its windows to the winds of change and newness.
Blessed James Alberione, a media pioneer in the Church, is such a wind that God envisaged to sweep away the darkness, lies and waywardness caused by media, and to bring Jesus and His gospel using the new means of evangelisation. Media, then considered the exclusive domain of the secular world and that the Church had almost nothing to do with, became for Alberione a tool to announce the kingdom of God. Employing media to spread the Gospel, he proved to the world that "Technology and media are not God-free zones." He, having experienced the influence of media, would one day use the same media to evangelise and reclaim those people who were intimidated by the media.
On the night of December 31, 1900, a new light flashed straight into the heart of a sixteen-year-old seminarian kneeling engrossed in prayer, with the message: "Do something for the new century." That light and message would change the course of the Church, and pave the way for a new way of life using the then unheard of and unused means for evangelisation. On that day, God planted the first cell of a future religious congregation, and it finally took birth on August 14, 1914.
The spirituality of Alberione stems from the devotion to Jesus the Divine Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, and is committed to proclaiming the whole Christ using the means of communication. He was resolved to draw people together to influence and to lead them back to Jesus, using the same means that were used in his time to take people away from God and His gospel. To accomplish this, Alberione lived first and foremost 'a God-enabled and Spirit-led' way of life. His identity as an apostle of Media emerged from a divine appointment, and it involved a mission commanded and enabled by God, and governed by the Spirit of God. Alberione was convinced of the fact that he neither sought nor deserved such an appointment, but it came to him as a gracious gift from the Tabernacle. The spirituality of Alberione, however, was not restricted to 'being', but was also vigorously committed and extended to doing the will and purpose of God. His 'doing' and his faithfulness to the task of preaching the gospel using the modern means of communication was very much part of the charism he accepted from the Spirit of the Lord.
Transition from Print to Digital Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities
FR JOE ERUPPAKKATT, SSP
According to a January 2018 survey conducted by 'We are Social', there are 3.19 billion active internet users in the world. That is 53% of the world's population! And 2.95 billion (39% of the world's population) are active mobile users. We are in an age where technology is overtaking everything, including the publishing industry. With the passage of time, the means of communication itself has undergone rapid and revolutionary changes. It has moved from mere verbal communication to pictorial, print, telegraphic, telephonic, electronic, and now, digital. As we have arrived at this increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment, it offers improved connectivity and increased supply of content, products and services, with more intense competition. What are the challenges and opportunities in this changing media environment, especially in the publishing industry?
After the birth and development of the "new media", life itself has changed a lot. News and information reach us with incredible speed and magnitude. What we used to access through books and magazines is now available to us through mobile phones and tablets. We see this growing trend among people to choose lighter and faster devices compared to the heavy and large traditional paper media. For example, until a couple of years ago, the three-volume Breviary (mandatory daily prayer book for priests) was part of my baggage, whenever I travelled to another community on transfer. It weighed substantially and occupied sizeable space in my bag. Today, if I get a transfer, I don't need to carry these volumes anymore. I have it in digital format on my tablet, made available by the app called 'universalis'. Life has become a lot 'lighter', faster and easier.
Today, with the emergence of digital media, publishing houses are being forced to change their strategies in their struggle for existence. Even the loyal adherents of traditional paper media have begun to think differently and opt for digital devices. The transition to digital is here to stay! According to Professor Rishikesha T. Krishnan of IIM-Bangalore, the challenge of competition is not new to print media, which had to face the entrance of radio, TV, cable and internet – all of which have had a far greater impact.
Until some years ago, Alba House (a division of ST PAULS), one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the US, listed several homiletic books in its list of bestsellers. Today, their customers can access any number of homilies free of charge from any homilies site by doing a Google search. Alba House took this challenge head-on by moving into e-books with the 'Kindle' device, but the effort was too late and too little. Today, sadly, the once prestigious Alba House is on the verge of extinction as a publishing house.
Although to a lesser degree, such might be the predicament of most publishers in the world today, be they of books, magazines or newspapers. They face a huge identity crisis as a medium of information, instruction and entertainment. The UK edition of Glamour magazine went 100% digital in 2018. According to Camilla Newman, its publishing director, since its digital transition, the magazine has reached 8 million users. And a whopping 82% access it through mobile phones. Companies have had to grapple with the question of how to embrace digital media and change strategies if they want to survive.
What I like about St Pauls Society
Considering that St Pauls Society has been in the sub-continent for nigh on 85 years, they have surely been keeping a very low profile. Take their presence in Mumbai, for instance. Less than a decade ago, mention of the congregation brought up blurred images of shops selling spiritual reading, religious artifacts and greeting cards.
The images were blurred, because I could not direct anyone to their Bandra shop to save my life, being neither a resident nor someone who bought a lot of holy stuff. In fact, I went for decades thinking that the Waterfield Road house of the Daughters of St Paul was their main establishment, and not 25th Road, TPS III. Then in late 2011, I came to their new building, accessed from 24th Road.
You have to hand it to St Pauls Society. They understood early on that image/perception was important, and till today, the building makes a huge impression on everyone who visits. And what a range of demographics it caters to, from film stars running for the fancy gym on the fourth floor, well-heeled locals spending hours browsing in Title Waves on the ground floor, while the Religious Book and Art Centre on the first floor, designed to look into the bookstore below, always seems to be full.
Sandwiched between these, occupying two floors, is the St Pauls Media School, now in its eighth year, and rapidly expanding from post-graduate courses to a range of undergraduate degrees. But it started very small indeed, with a single year-long course to train budding journalists, and that is where I came in.
The first time I was exposed to the St Pauls' way of communication was Fr Shaiju Joseph, looking no older than a college student himself. I did my best to dissuade him from starting what seemed to be a completely gratuitous course, to add to the many available in Mumbai. It would be called St Pauls Institute of Communication Education, he said, 'SPICE' for short. It would be a centre for excellence in the future, but for now, they were happy to start really small. Gently, and with extreme charm, my objections were steamrolled. I shrugged and went off. On their heads be it, I thought cheerfully. But the building and its vibes stayed in my mind; such a cheerful, modern space, so much potential, such a far cry from the usual dreary institutional educational space.
Pastoral Vigilance in the Digital Space
FR (DR) PLAVENDRAN, SSP
Scrutiniser of the signs of the times that he was, Blessed Alberione advocated for pastoral vigilance to examine the current media environment. The mandate received from the Eucharistic Lord — 'To do something for the people of the new century' on the night that divided the nineteenth century from the twentieth, prompted Fr Alberione to begin the media mission. The foundation for the media mission was laid with the inauguration of Typographical School of the Little Worker, on August 20, 1914 with two young boys and a tiny printing machine in Italy. This was also the foundation of the Society of St Paul for the Mass Media apostolate, and the beginning of the 'Pauline Family' —the group of congregations Fr Alberione founded in the course of time under the patronage of St Paul the Apostle.
Establishing a number of communities across the world, the pioneers of the Society of St Paul from Italy set foot in Bombay on April 10, 1935, looking for a breakthrough on Indian soil. After years of long and tireless efforts, the first house was canonically erected on June 21, 1939 in Prayagraj (then called Allahabad). Currently, the India-Nigeria-England-Ireland Province is actively engaged in spreading the Word of God through the media apostolate in as many as 22 regions, instilling among the young and old the need to cultivate pastoral vigilance in understanding the media environment. The history of the Society of St Paul in India is a history of hardships and difficulties. But it is also a history of innumerable blessings of God, who in spite of our many errors and evident limitations, has been very generous and merciful towards us. For over a hundred years, the Paulines across the world have faithfully carried out the Pauline Charism that they have inherited from Alberione. One of the many insights of Alberione that stand as beacons of hope for the future is inculcating pastoral vigilance among the faithful. Alberione explains the meaning of pastoral vigilance: "that sensitivity of intuiting with penetrating clearness and with a strong sense of anticipation the needs of the people of God." (Chapter documents 1969-1971, n.36).
In the digital environment, the strong sense of sensitivity one ought to possess is the need to seek authentic information on events that have occurred, and not be drowned in the Niagara of information propelled by a number of media platforms. Consuming information can be compared to consumption of food. A healthy and balanced diet will help us stay fit. On the contrary, overeating will result in indigestion, and may cause other diseases. Likewise, information overload may force us to dwell in the sea of irrelevance, and push us into a state of misdirection.
Peace in an Age of Connected Disconnection
Humanity is in danger of being disrupted by technology.
"We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness." If Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr Albert Schweitzer (who passed away in 1965) were alive today, I wonder how much more drastic his comment would have been. Quietly, I scan the restaurant as I wait to be served — three sets of couples sitting in front of each other, but both partners totally absorbed with their mobile phones. We are in that paradoxical age of connected disconnection.
Technology and Health
In our modern world, making a concerted effort to be kind is as vital as making a concerted effort to get some exercise. The parallels between a workout for your body and your spirit are uncanny, with analogous outcomes as the material and mental consequences. A hundred years ago, very few people had to make much extra effort to seek out exercise. Today, chances are that if you are reading this, you're relatively sedentary, and have a few extra pounds on you. There is high probability that your last meal contained out-of-season items from thousands of miles away, had traces of pesticide, was processed to add extra fat, sugar, or both, contained preservatives to maintain freshness, or was genetically modified to include some subset of the previous traits. The range of health conditions that can be avoided or cured by diet and exercise is simply staggering. Conversely, the number of conditions which can be triggered by improper diet and lack of exercise is similarly huge.
Together but Alone
A hundred years ago, very few people had to make much extra effort to seek out opportunities for kindness; there was a high probability that a rich network of deep ties built on mutual interdependence and an understanding of shared destiny produced a steady trickle of kindness that one exuded, even if only with an implicit faith that kindness would be returned in one's own moment of need. Today, chances are that if you are reading this, you're relatively isolated, and know two or fewer of your neighbours. There is a high probability that our highly monetised society has immersed you in the illusion that you do not need your neighbours. It doesn't end there; you're enmeshed in a network of transactional relationships that fall beneath the threshold of even loose ties. All of the essentials you need for your survival, from your food, water, electricity, fuel, transit, and waste disposal are delivered by nameless, and often faceless, people who live far from you, and probably paid for by an electronic payment you make to other people who live even further away, behind more firewalls. Your whole apparent means of survival has been reduced to your day job, yet even there, chances that you have a deep meaningful relationship with even three of your co-workers is very low. What's worse is that the pace and structure of your life is such that if any one around you needs something (hint: they do!!!), you are scarcely aware or even available to serve their needs. And chances are that when you encounter someone truly in need, you struggle to trust that their stated needs are genuine, and you simply do not have the time or patience to discover and serve their true needs. The range of mental health and social conditions caused by this sense of isolation, lack of trust, and apparent disconnection is staggering. Today, India has the dubious distinction of being ranked the "suicide capital of the world" - annually accounting for one-third of the world's suicides. Conversely, the magnitude of mental suffering that can be avoided or reversed by an attitude of gratitude, kindness and compassion born of interconnection is similarly huge.
Imposing the Dark Ages (Part I)
Busting the myth of the Church's opposition to Enlightenment and Reason
For many Western intellectuals, the Fall does not refer to the fate of Adam and Eve, but to the fate of civilisation after the collapse of Rome. "Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and most of Europe. Then we observe a Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia, which afflicted the continent from AD 300 to at least 1300." This occurred because "the leaders of orthodox Christendom built a grand barrier against the progress of knowledge."
These sentences were published in a chapter titled 'The Prison of Christian Dogma' in a best-selling book called The Discoverers (1983). The author was not just another writer, but Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004), one-time professor at the University of Chicago, then the librarian of Congress and senior historian at the Smithsonian Institution. During his illustrious career, Boorstin won both the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes. These honours were not inconsistent with Boorstin's view about the harmful effects of the Roman Catholic Church on classical learning. It has long been the received wisdom that, following the collapse of Rome, Europe slumbered through a millennium of ignorance that came be known as the Dark Ages (and sometimes as the Age of Faith).
The celebrated Cambridge historian J. B. Bury (1861-1927) noted that when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, this "inaugurated a millennium in which reason was enchained, thought was enslaved, and knowledge made no progress." And the distinguished William Manchester (1922-2004) described this as an era "of incessant warfare, corruption, lawlessness, obsession with strange myths, and an almost impenetrable mindlessness. The Dark Ages were stark in dimension."
The Italian humanist Petrarch (1304-74) may have been the first to call "the period stretching from the fall of the Roman Empire down to his own age as a time of 'darkness," an anti-Catholic judgment that has echoed down the centuries. Thus, Voltaire (1694-1778) described this long era as one when "barbarism, superstition, [and] ignorance covered the face of the world." Edward Gibbon (1737-94) also proclaimed that the fall of Rome was the "triumph of barbarism and religion." More recently, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) lent his awesome authority to the matter, writing in the illustrated edition of his famous college textbook: "As the central authority of Rome decayed, the lands of the Western Empire began to sink into an era of barbarism during which Europe suffered a general cultural decline. The Dark Ages, as they are called... it is not inappropriate to call these centuries dark, especially if they are set against what came before and what came after."
Also known as the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment is said to have begun in the sixteenth century when (aided by the Reformation) secular thinkers freed themselves from clerical control, and revolutionised both science and philosophy, thereby ushering in the modern world.
To summarise, Western history consists of four major eras: (1) Classical antiquity, (2) then the Dark Ages when the Church dominated, followed by (3) the Renaissance-Enlightenment that led the way to (4) modern times.