English Africa Service – Vatican City
"The Pope recognises the nature of human beings as storytellers and how important, even indispensable, stories are to human existence. Told authentically, stories then become the reason, the motivation, the palliative that helps us heroically confront the challenges of life. How very real this is to African cultures that have a practice of panegyrics in various forms as a tool of empowerment and encouragement even in moments of trouble. A similar experience is found among the Jews who were often admonished in the Bible, never to forget the good deeds of God who brought them out of the land of slavery into the promised land," said Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo Diocese in Nigeria. The Bishop is also President of SECAM's Communications apostolate. SECAM stands for Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
Speak up for the truth, for the faith and for the Church
SECAM's communications Bishop-President says apart from storytellers, the world needs apologists. An apologist is a person who offers an argument in defence of something controversial. The term Apologetics is originally from Greek means, 'speaking in defence of' something. Apologetics is also a religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. Early Christian writers who defended their beliefs and faith against critics were called Christian Apologists. Bishop Badejo feels that with so many falsehoods circulating especially on digital media, apologetics could play an important role.
"We, therefore, need at this time not only storytellers but also apologists, another brand of storytellers who are able and willing at every turn to refute lies and fake news about our history, faith and Church. Refer to 1 Peter 3:15 'Be ready at all times to give witness for what you believe.' This dimension is not a charge only for professionals. It is within the power of every youth and adult in every diocese and all over the world. Speak up for the truth, for the faith and for the Church. If especially you own a phone, then you are in pole position to demonstrate that your story, our story, has what the Pope calla "an irrepressible dignity" that is worthy of the mission of Jesus Christ," said Bishop Badejo.
Bishop Badejo continued, "(Pope Francis') proposal of authentic storytelling strongly challenges our contemporary environment of exploitative fake news and sugar-coated falsehoods which seems dominant all over the world. Those who manufacture baseless, destructive, and sensational stories and all who mindlessly disseminate them should pay proper attention. The Pope consequently assures us: "But whereas the stories employed for exploitation and power have a short life span, a good story can transcend the confines of space and time. Centuries later, it remains timely, for it nourishes," he said.
Pope Francis' message helps us manage present-day trials
Bishop Badejo commended Pope Francis for this year's thought-provoking communications day message mainly coming at a time of so much pain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Pope's choice of theme thus equips people all over the word with the tool with which to manage present trials and tribulations. Those who endure and suffer from war, ethnic conflicts, terrorist attacks, bad governance, and even the current COVID 19 pandemic can invoke stories of their past when things were better and more peaceful. They can reminisce about when times were more prosperous to gain balance and comfort in their lives. Such stories remind us of when we had much less but were much more, when we found more joy in who we were than in what we had and when humanity mattered much more than possessions," said the Bishop of Oyo.
What are we to make of contemporary tragedies?
The Bishop of Oyo said authentic storytelling reveals who we truly are. We begin to see the world in the untold heroism of everyday life.
What do stories of contemporary tragedies tell us? Examples of stories that speak to us are found in "contemporary tragedies like bereavements, terrorist attacks, conflicts, violent deaths, kidnappings, and corrupt practices which, when reported especially through the modern media, seem to overwhelm and perplex us. Rather than seek to avoid them or merely denounce them, we must demonstrate that for Christians, the pain is part of the promise, and sorrow is not alien to the story. Our task as Christian communicators is to make people see that there is always a larger story with God which, try as we may, we, or even the smartest experts, cannot immediately fully comprehend. The Exodus story, properly told, was full of pain but was NOT all pain. The disappointments and negative events of everyday life must serve only to enrich our story not to discourage or disorient us. That is why I subscribe fully to this thought: 'When writing the story of your life do not let anyone else hold the pen' or the paper for that matter! We must vigorously play the protagonist in our own story, showing that God is the editor and choreographer of all that we experience. While this frees us from the fatalistic submission to the overwhelming presence of evil in the world, it also empowers us to 'look at the world more tenderly.' Yes, many will try to weigh us down with those fake and apocalyptic news and reports. True, we cannot stop the birds of negativity from flying over our heads; however, we can surely stop them from nesting in our hair," said Bishop Badejo.
Share your family story
Bishop Badejo has also encouraged the open sharing of family stories as a way of healing memories.
"Finally, the extra power you require is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that love of God who writes within us. Pray constantly, therefore for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Hear the Pope: 'By the power of the Holy Spirit, every story, even the most forgotten one, even the one that seems to be written with the most crooked lines, can become inspired, can be reborn as a masterpiece, and become an appendix to the Gospel.' So, share your family's story, your uncle's or your brother's story, and do so with every possible medium, in song, poetry, recital, drama, skits, video clips, and riddles and jokes. When we all do that we no longer remain tied to regrets and sadness, bound to an unhealthy memory that burdens our hearts; instead, by opening ourselves to others, we open ourselves up to the same vision of the great storyteller. Who that might be is your good guess -none other than Almighty God who daily writes the story of each of us. Keep him in it at all times, and your story will always have a happy ending. (Psalm 139)," Bishop Badejo commended.