Transmitting faith in the digital age

If he is recognized as a great theologian, Joseph Ratzinger was also a remarkable communicator, with a style all his own, whose legacy will undoubtedly exceed the temporal limit of his earthly existence. The fact that Benedict XVI don’t be a mass communicator — even though it captured the attention of millions of young people during World Youth Day ( jmd ) — takes nothing away from his style of communication. First of all, as a theologian, he showed that even very intellectual subjects can be explained in a simple way and be accessible to a wide audience and not only to specialists. The success of his Introduction to Christianitywhich is still enjoying worldwide success more than 50 years after its publication, demonstrates Joseph Ratzinger’s innate ability to explain faith in Jesus Christ and to do so with clear arguments and compelling, compelling language.

It is the same for the trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth, a work in which Joseph Ratzinger put all his heart, managing to complete it before his resignation, in spite of the difficulties of governing the universal Church. We can therefore say that Benoît XVI was a great witness to the faith — and to its reasonableness, as evidenced by his spiritual testament — also because of the manner in which he knew how to communicate it. In particular, through his writings, his speeches (some memorable, as many remember these days) and his homilies, defined as “sublime” by Father Federico Lombardi for the wise harmony between theology, knowledge of the Scriptures and spirituality.

But the German Pope does not lack gestures and courage to “take risks” in the vast field of communication. Benedict XVI was the first Pope to meet victims of clergy sexual abuse. An act of great importance also in terms of communication, in which Joseph Ratzinger placed listening at the center. Listening — as we see in the encounters during his international travels — away from the spotlight and marked by openness and empathy, essential conditions for beginning this process of conversion of heart that Francis is now pursuing with conviction and which has been the basis of the Summit on the protection of minors in February 2019. Although some of his decisions have not failed to be criticized by certain media, Benoît XVI has always maintained a positive attitude towards the world of information and communication.

His conversation with German journalist Peter Seewald gave rise to light of the world, a book that addresses all the most sensitive issues of his pontificate, going so far as to mention the subject of his resignation. Benedict XVI is also the first Sovereign Pontiff to have sent texting (to young people from jmd of Sydney), to dialogue with the astronauts of the International Space Station, to answer questions on television on Good Friday (from 2011), while at Christmas of the following year, he wrote an editorial in the FinancialTimes on the commitment of Christians in today’s world.

Above all, Benoit XVI is the first Pope to be confronted with the irruption on the scene of social networks which are profoundly reshaping the context of world communication in the very years of his pontificate. No less than five of his eight messages for the World Days of Social Communications are devoted to this unprecedented digital areopagus. Together, they constitute a kind of compendium of the magisterium of the Church on this new reality which has changed not only our way of communicating but also our way of relating to others. Benedict XVI immediately grasps the meaning of social revolution, which is not so much a means to be used as an environment to be inhabited. So he coined the term “digital continent” for social media. A continent which demands the commitment of the faithful — especially the laity, in line withInter Mirifica — to evangelize this new mission territory. The Pope also understands the distinction between the virtual and the real, because what is shared, and commented on, on new platforms has concrete consequences on people’s lives.

Benedict XVI encourages Christians to be digital witnesses rather than influencers, to transform social networks into “doors of truth and faith”. And he doesn’t just do it with words. On December 12, 2012, for the first time, a Pope published a tweet via the @Pontifex account opened a few days earlier. This gesture is compared by some to the creation of Radio Vatican, by Pius xi . Not everyone approves, fearing exposure of the Pope to criticism and offense, but Be-
night XVI is convinced of a choice that goes in the direction of the new evangelization. Once again, a Pope knows how to seize the potential of technological innovations to reach people who would otherwise remain excluded from the proclamation of the Gospel.

A few weeks after opening the account, Benoît XVI renounces his Petrine ministry, but @Pontifex has been “reactivated” by Francis, who today reaches — through his tweets in 9 languages ​​— more than 50 million followers every day. If therefore, during the almost eight years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI communicated using the most diverse languages ​​with creativity and courage, during the almost ten years as Pope Emeritus, his communication took a different form, invisible but no less effective: the form of silence and prayer. (alessandro gisotti)

Alessandro Gisotti

Transmitting faith in the digital age – L’Osservatore Romano