By Alessandro Gisotti
Stories “can help us understand and communicate who we are” because we “human beings are storytellers” who need to be “‘clothed’ with stories to protect our lives”. Pope Francis emphasizes this in his message for World Communications Day 2020, published on Friday, the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of journalists. The message, however, embraces a much broader horizon than the profession of journalism, which the Pope has got us accustomed to since his first message for World Communications Day (2014) when he established an ideal link between the evangelical figure of the Good Samaritan and the mission carried out today by “good communicators”. At a time marked by the deceptive and divisive use of the word, an “illness” from which the Catholic world is unfortunately not immune, the Pope reminds us that communication is authentic if it builds and does not destroy. It should be “humble” in the “search for truth”, as he stressed to the journalists of the Foreign Press Association last May. And in the face of the spread of “false and evil” stories – including the sophisticated aberration of deepfake - the Pope encourages that narration speak “of ourselves and of the beauty all around us” and help us “rediscover the roots and the strength to go ahead together”. We need, he exhorts, “to make our own the truth contained in good stories”.
Sacred Scripture, a “Story of stories”
The Pope’s message mentions storytelling, a technique increasingly in vogue in various fields from advertising to politics, but the story that Pope Francis thinks about does not follow the worldly logic. It has a deeper value that revives “our memory of what we are in God’s eyes”. Moreover, a revealing indication of what the Pope considers to be a model of narration already comes from the theme chosen for the Message: “That you may tell your children and grandchildren (Ex 10:2), Life becomes history”. Noting that Sacred Scripture is “a story of stories”, the Pontiff says that the Bible shows us “a God who is both creator and narrator”. “As narrator,” the Pope continues, “God calls things into life, culminating in the creation of man and woman as his free dialogue partners.” Just ahead of the celebration of the “First Sunday of the Word of God” (January 26), instituted by the Apostolic Letter “Aperuit Illis”, Pope Francis also invites us with this message, to be close to Sacred Scripture, to make it our own, reminding us that “the Bible is thus the great love story between God and humanity”. On the other hand, as the Book of Exodus teaches us, and from which is taken the theme of the message - we learn that the “knowledge of the Lord is handed down from generation to generation mainly by telling the story of how He continues to make Himself present”.
Temptation of false and destructive stories
An important part of the Pope’s message is dedicated to “destructive stories”, which are reminiscent of many of his homilies at Mass at Santa Marta. Once again - as has already been dealt with in his message for the World Day of Communications 2018, which is dedicated to the phenomenon of fake news – Pope Francis this time warns against the temptation of the serpent, as narrated in the Book of Genesis, which “introduces into the fabric of history a knot difficult to undo”.
The Pope denounces those stories that “lull us, convincing us that to be happy we continually need to gain, possess and consume”. And, taking up a theme very dear to him, he stigmatizes the greed of “chatter and gossip” which “we may not even realize”, as well as “how much violence and falsehood we are consuming”. The ultimate consequence is the spread of “destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society.” The message says that what is at risk is human dignity, which is stripped away by the combination of “unverified information” with the repetition of “banal and deceptively persuasive arguments” that strike with “hateful messages”. The Pope urges all to react to these with “courage” and reject such threats. “Amid today’s many troubles,” the Holy Father says, “we need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life”.
No human story is insignificant to God
Pope Francis, therefore, turns his attention to the story of Jesus, which shows how God has taken man to heart and that for Him “no human stories are insignificant or paltry”. “By the power of the Holy Spirit,” the Pope explains, “every story, even the most forgotten one,… can be reborn as a masterpiece, and become an appendix to the Gospel.” He cites some stories that have “admirably scripted the encounter between God’s freedom and that of man” from Augustine’s “Confessions” to “The Brothers Karamazov”. He invites us to read the stories of the saints and to share those “stories that have the fragrance of the Gospel” that each of us knows. “Telling God our story is never useless,” he reiterates, because “no one is an extra on the world stage, and everyone’s story is open to possible change”. For this reason, the Pope notes, “when we tell of evil” we can also “recognize the working of goodness and give it space”.
Pope Francis concludes his message with a prayer to Mary so that she listens to our stories and cherishes them. Recalling an image dear to him, which has featured in many of his homilies at Santa Marta, the Holy Father implores the Virgin Mary to untie “the tangled knots in our life” and “help us build stories of peace, stories that point to the future”.