July 14, 2024
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SIGNIS AFRICA CONGRESS: Keynote address by Bishop Emmanuel Badejo

The Catholic Association for Communications Congress and Delegates Assembly KIGALI RWANDA 11-15, July 2022
Keynote Address by Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo,
President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS).

I am happy to give this keynote address to this Signis Africa assembly of delegates under the theme as president of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS). I greet the distinguished dignitaries present here and particularly, the President of Signis Africa, Prof Walter Ihejirika and all invitees, delegates and members of Signis Africa and others all over the world who might be participating virtually at this assembly.

I wish on behalf of the Bishops of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) to appreciate the important role which Signis Africa has been playing in the coordination, coverage and diffusion of the mission and activities of the Church, Family of God in Africa. Thank you for the effort being made to bring Signis Africa components together from time to time to share ideas, skills and vision while visualizing opportunities for the future. Times are hard for many and we thank you for keeping the flag flying. The coming together of Signis Africa here in Kigali should help to focus the attention of all catholic media institutions and catholic media professionals on issues of actual importance to the mission of the Church in the continent and through them focus the attention of the wider world on those same issues. The way you choose to do this must include making SECAM, the coordinating platform for the Church’s mission in Africa better known and better enabled to serve, especially through its regional structures.

Communication Then and Now to Communion
We all know that the beginnings of communication, understood as the linear transmission stage of “who said what and to whom” has now progressed to a dazzling whirlwind of negotiation, possibilities and opportunities. After the era of the broadcast media of radio and television, digital communication has now overshadowed and permeated the world of communication. While not totally eliminating the human component, this has left many bewildered and even marginalized by its sheer complexity and diversity. The digital communication or new media being propelled today by the internet, cellphones, computers, ipods, ipads file sharing on You Tube, facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, according to some experts, “is generating a transformation in the field of human communication as reflected in media convergence, mediatization of the society, deprofessionalization of journalistic work, the development of new active audiences which take over some functions  that so far have been traditionally performed by journalists.
We have therefore a newer generation which is born into the new communication world and who understand it as second nature, otherwise known as the digital natives and those who because of age and formation are having to learn how to navigate the waters of new age communication, in their turn, known as the digital migrants. I am sure that both are represented at this congress of Signis Africa and I welcome them both

Doctrinal Panorama on Communion
It is within this context that Signis Africa must perform its task under the permanent commitment of the Catholic Teaching that the means of communication remain marvelous tools and are “gifts of God” to humanity, as highlighted in (Communio et Progressio, 1971, no 1) and that authentic communication must lead eventually to communion. The same pastoral instruction Communio et progressio, addressed the link between communion and communication in a more direct manner thus: “Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level, it is the giving of self in love. Christ’s communication was in fact spirit and life. In the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Christ gave us the most perfect, most intimate form of communion between God and man possible in this life, and, out of this, the deepest possible unity between men. Further, Christ communicated to us his life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity” (CP no.11).

The second Pastoral Instruction of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication Aetatis Novae also declared that “communication mirrors the Church’s own communion and is capable of contributing to it” (AN no. 6). The Guide to the Future Training of Priests concerning the instruments of communication of 1986 on its part, highlighted the Church’s post conciliar teaching that communication in any form, ought to lead to communion. It presented Jesus Christ as the exemplar, the perfect communicator and the central mystery between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as a life of exemplary communion (Guide to the Training, no. 3). The consistency of this position in the Church’s teaching is found even in Pope Benedict XVI’s injunction that “virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives” (2011).  This enduring concern for communion in the life of the Church is the reason behind many of the messages of the popes for the World Communication Day celebration whereby topics and themes that interrogate the quality of communion within the Church and among peoples are selected for reflection.  A few examples of the themes chosen for recent editions will corroborate this opinion:

1. The 43rd edition of 2009, themed: “New Technologies, New Relationships, promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.”
2. The 48th edition of 2014 themed: Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter”
3. The 49th edition, themed: “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.”
4. The 53rd edition of 2019 themed: “We are Members one of another (Eph 4:25) From social network communities to the human community.”
5. The 55th edition of 2021 themed: “Come and See” (Jn 1:46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are”
6. The 56th edition of 2022 themed: “Faith comes through listening” (Rom 10:17) Listening with the ear of the heart.”
All these themes teach lessons that must remain valid and still deserve our attention today. They are meant to eliminate the structures of exclusion and promote inclusion. They show an unrepentant consistency of the Church in making communication to serve the purpose of communion within the Church so that no one is left at the margins. Pope Francis, like him or not, has consistently pushed the boundaries of communion in his magisterium and actions. His ultimate social encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers and Sisters All),  called us to dream and work as a single human family to build a more just and fraternal world without leaving anyone behind.  Perhaps his greatest effort to achieve that communion in recent times is the recent call of Pope Francis to the Synod on Synodality, a different kind of Synod which does attempt to bring to relief the voice of, not only Bishops, but every component of the family of God
The Synod on Synodality
The Holy Father Pope Francis’ call for a Synod on Synodality in my opinion, is another invitation to evaluate what it means to be Church and is a qualitative jump in the quest for communion. It is an effort to revive all potential components of collegiality in the Church for the purpose of increased participation and effectiveness in Church life. This Signis congress is holding at a very auspicious period because it is holding less than a month from the general assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) which is to hold from the end of July in Accra, Ghana, when the Bishops of Africa will reflect on how the different components of the Church in Africa can better own the Church and live by that commitment. Right at the beginning of the Synod Preparatory Document, Pope Francis taught that it is this path of synodality that God wants the Church of the Third Millenium to follow. He explained:
“This journey, which follows in the wake of the
Church’s “renewal” proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a
gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the
journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through
Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to
achieve participation, to open Herself to mission”. (Synod preparatory Document No 1).
The synod on Synodality takes on a special character for a group like Signis Africa, because it addresses the very process of being Church rather than just a segment of her activity and life. It is a mutual listening process in which everyone has something to learn and share, from bishops to lay people, adults to youths and children. A synodal Church is a listening, learning and sharing Church. It must be said that the three operating concepts or theme of the synod on Synodality: communion, participation and mission relate to communication. In fact, I think that none of the three concepts can be fully understood or realized without communication. I therefore expect that the work of communications and the catholic media professionals in the synodality project be conceived here in a way that they can help the Church better to experience collegiality and communion according to the mind of the Holy Father. In other words, I expect that this exercise will lead Signis Africa to do more in giving visibility and weight to the authentic experience of the local church and peoples in Africa, and secondly, do more to improve networking between the Catholic media institutions, programmes and professionals within Africa and with counterpart realities in the world, especially the Pontifical Dicastery for Communications.

Participation and the Church in Africa
Signis Africa must, through the Synodality process in its own way, facilitate the participation and enhancement of the latent voices which hitherto have been muted or excluded in the Church’s pastoral life. This can mean reaching to the past for cultural and grassroots media, and coopting where possible, contemporary professional media organizations which have the capacity to enhance and enrich the mission of the Church and which hitherto have remained at the margins.

The ten Thematic Nuclei provided in the Synod Preparatory document for reflection, under the “Speaking Out” section states thus: 
“All are invited to speak with courage and parrhesia, that is,
integrating freedom, truth, and charity. How do we promote a free
and authentic style of communication within the community and its
organizations, without duplicity and opportunism? And in relation to
the society of which we are a part? When and how do we manage to
say what is important to us? How does the relationship with the media system (not only Catholic media) work? Who speaks on behalf of the Christian community, and how are they chosen? (Preparatory Document No 30)
Here then lies a peculiar task that Signis Africa members are called to: Who really do we give voice, platform or the microphone to in order to uncover and publicize the experience of the local church?  How do we direct the Church’s attention to important pastoral issues where they can be inadvertently missed? Even the message of SECAM after its 2019 assembly in Kampala, Uganda which recommended that the segments of the Church which still live and interact by the Traditional Media and Group means of communication should never be ignored is a challenge to the professionals of media to find new ways of making such a request come true in the Church in Africa. Again, the Synod on Synodality preparatory document said:
“The proclamation of the Gospel is not addressed only to an enlightened or chosen few. Jesus’ interlocutor is the “people” of ordinary life, the “everyone” of the human condition, whom he puts directly in contact with God’s gift and the call to salvation. In a way that surprises and sometimes scandalizes the witnesses, Jesus accepts as interlocutors all those who emerge from the crowd” (Preparatory Document no. 18)

The Synodal process and the African Contribution
With the foregoing, it is as if the current synodal process is intended to remind us of our African values. One can be forgiven for saying that the authentic African world view is characteristically participatory and communal, somewhat synodal. Many African proverbs and idioms have expressed this for centuries. In my Yoruba language for example we say: “Omode gbon, agba gbon la fi da Ile Ife” meaning that the land of Ile Ife, traditionally considered as the origin of humanity, was created through the wisdom of both children and adults. We also say: “Owo omode ko to pepe beeni ti agbaagba ko wo keregbe”, meaning that: The child cannot reach up to a raised platform neither can the adult reach inside a narrow drinking gourd. or “Je ki nje lo nmu ayo dun”, meaning that it is when you win and I also win that the game becomes sweet. Put otherwise, it means “Live and let live.” All these speak to the participation of all in day-to-day life and reiterate that everybody has an important role to play.

In Africa, a healthy society or community is one that gives opportunity to everyone to thrive and express himself according to capacity. I gather that the Ubuntu concept of East Africa in this way expresses similar things. The ubuntu philosophy, an eminent African expression, depicts a society which puts high value on even the wisdom of mere children. As the narrative goes: “An anthropologist (an expert in the study of humankind) proposed a game to children of an African tribe. He put a basket of fruits near a tree and told the kids that the first one to reach the fruits would win them all. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying the fruits. When asked why they ran like that, as one could have taken the fruits for oneself, they said: ‘ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?’ Ubuntu is a philosophy of African tribes that can be summed up as, “I am because you are”.

Numerous are such African cultural perspectives and philosophies that can enrich the synodal spirit which members of Signis Africa can help to bring into relief. Adopting such home-grown perspectives will make the local communities in Africa feel “truly at home” in the process of synodality and increase the prospects of collegiality and communion as well.

The Enduring Need for Formation in the Truth
Communication experts and practitioners like the members of Signis Africa gathered here have the task, the tools, the talent and the mandate to present events and information as a sharing in the intimate union which exists among the three Persons of the Trinity. This will ultimately be the test that they are working for true communion in the Church and striving to safeguard the truth. The great task for the catholic communicator today is to resist the influence of our contemporary, powerful disinformation ecosystem which accommodates thousands of “trolls” involved in so-called “creative media work”, the type that does not mind manipulating or falsifying facts and data to achieve goals. Even the Church can be affected by such influence. For example, politicians, businessmen and executives today pay heavily for what they term “propaganda” which not only projects what they actually can offer but does even more to damage the reputation of perceived opposition. Church Communication experts must constantly redefine and reappraise their own role so as not to validate or fall victim to similar negative influences. They must rather act as a catalyst which raises and focuses attention on pastoral and social issues of justice, reconciliation, human development and other themes of importance to the mission of the Church.

African communication experts must seek to educate the African peoples to reconciliation in truth, and the promotion of justice and peace. This point finds relevance in Africae Munus, the 2011 post Synodal Exhortation of Pope Benedict XV1 “On the Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace”. In it the pope wrote: “The media can make an important contribution towards the growth in communion of the human family and the ethos of society when they are used to promote universal participation in the common search for what is just” (AM no 142). For this to happen however, a solid formation in ethics and truthfulness is needed to help them avoid the attraction of the sensational, as well as the temptation to manipulate information and to make easy money or fame. It is the responsibility of African Communications experts to “ensure that Christian principles influence the practice of the profession, including the technical and administrative sector. To enable them to exercise this role properly, they need to be provided with a wholesome human, religious and spiritual training.” (Ecclesia in Africa, n.124)

Funding Communication for Communion and Participation:
Communication is capital intensive in mobilization and financing; thus, it continuously calls for financial support. Considering that there is a paucity of funds to carry out the mission of evangelization of the Church through the media, we acknowledge that the local Churches in Africa must maximise human resources and alliances in order to address the issue of raising funds to support their evangelization through the media. In the spirit of communion and participation, Signis Africa should not be afraid to seek help even while working towards local financial self-sustenance. Signis could make it its policy and strategy to assist dioceses more through pro bono training for strategic, comprehensive and sustainable action plans.

Widening the Channels to the Dicastery for Communications
It is impossible to claim to operate in the spirit of synodality if we do not do all we can to optimize our channels and connections with the Universal Church. On a recent visit to the Vatican City, I had some quality time with the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Dr. Paolo Ruffini in the company of Msgr. Janvier Yameogo, who mans the affairs of Africa at the dicastery, for which I am grateful. He volunteered some perspectives which I know will only enhance the work and mission of Church Communications in Africa.  This is why on behalf of the Dicastery for Communications in Rome I request that in Signis Africa we set up a better networking system of all catholic media initiatives, institutions and programmes in the continent that can be counted on by the dicastery and all other organs of the Church to access in order to know authentically the life and progress of the Church in every corner of our huge continent. To achieve that networking, we need a list/profile/database of contacts, sites and addresses of communication professionals, schools, institutes, media houses and programmes in Africa possibly of even those who are merely of Catholic orientation according to their nationalities or even better still, their profession. This should be such that can be easily accessible and simple to work with. The same should apply to websites, facebook pages of National Bishops Conferences, Ecclesiastical Provinces and Dioceses etc, that can network with the dicastery and with one another. I am convinced that such an effort will engender better accompaniment from the dicastery and facilitate an exchange of resources and inspiration for the benefit of the Church in Africa and universally.
Nudging the Church from word to action:
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22-25). Following an inherited tradition, official, and important communiques or statements are issued as outcome of the deliberations of Catholic Bishops Conferences, and of catholic organizations, associations or institutions. Signis Africa, the Directorates of Communication, and associations of Catholic Media Practitioners in the continent have helped to disseminate and diffuse such pronouncements which sometimes are then never heard of again. It is necessary to pass from statements issued in this manner to practical and sustained action. Catholic communications media can help by becoming the social memory of such issues, raising them consistently in the public space, long enough for them to be acted upon. Such a service will be an evangelical commitment and will benefit the Church. Signis Africa should help dioceses, organizations and institutions to periodically assess and monitor progress in the implementation of communiques and directives, and policies issued especially on communications.

Thank you for your patience.

Most Rev. Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo received an award for excellent contribution to Pastoral Communication in Africa

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