The highlight of any Congress is the sharing of stories and experiences by fellow communicators gathered from all corners of the globe, Gustavo Andujar, President of SIGNIS told delegates gathered at the opening plenary of the SIGNIS World Congress 2017 taking place in Quebec City from June 19 – 22.
The theme of the Congress is ‘Media for a Culture of Peace: Promoting Stories of Hope’. The first plenary ‘Communicating Hope’ highlighted how different organisations put the vision of promoting stories of hope into practice, particularly using communications and media in creative ways.
Prof David Mulroney, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Michael’s College, Toronto, spoke about his appointment to reignite the Catholic identity of the College. The University had become siloed and St Michael’s had lost its sense of community and vocation. “There was a sense of ambivalence, a disconnect with Catholic institutions and there was no hiring for ‘mission’.
“You can’t be a centre for catholic intellectuals if you don’t hire one occasionally.”
After a long career in the Canadian foreign service and coming into a Catholic education role, “I learnt that firstly, you have to live the mission and secondly, you have to communicate the mission”.
Primarily, Professor Mulroney addressed the rising concern about how a Catholic college can add value in a secular university environment. “You can’t communicate who you are, if you don’t know who you are.”
Tapping into key strengths across the College, Professor Mulroney noted, “Marshall McLuhan, who previously attended the University, couldn’t have been the thinker he was if he hadn’t lived the life of faith he had”.
He used media contacts to talk about stories of hope and what he wanted to do.
Prof Mulroney concluded, “the question of identity is essential because it’s about survival. Asserting identity is essential, how we add value to the secular university setting is our point of difference and that is why communicating our mission is so important”.
Johnny Zokovitch, Senior Communications Officer at Pax Christi International inspired delegates with his presentation about the ‘Young Peace Journalists’ project. Pax Christi operates in 50 different countries with its mission to transform a world shaken by violence, terrorism, deepening inequalities and global insecurity.
“We began a conversation about poverty and how the lack of opportunities for young people was at the heart of recruiting to radical extremism. We reached out to train young people in peace journalism.”
Zokovitch emphasised the power that stories have to create hope. He explained the different steps involved in the project from recruiting people to be journalists (13-35 years), to conducting media training about doing an interview with someone who has experienced trauma, writing styles, editing and publishing the article. Once published, the project was presented to politicians in order to secure policy commitments based on the power of the personal stories to show the reality of the situation for refugees.
“We offered the refugees a platform where their voice could be heard across the Catholic news network and beyond. With the Young Peace Journalists it was an exercise in empowerment. We offered an international exchange with other journalists. These stories have the ability to change something and make it better.”
When traditional media are not paying attention to these issues, “we need to use alternative methods of raising up the important stories through social media and Catholic media”.
Following the morning plenary, a series of workshops took place on topics ranging from storytelling on screen to the medium is the marketing.
The new direction for Vatican communications grabbed everyone’s attention during the afternoon session led by Mgr Lucio Adrian Ruiz, Secretary of the new Secretariat for Communications at the Holy See. Mgr Ruiz spoke about the process of integrating all the main communications activities of the Holy See including the Press Office, Vatican Radio, CTV, Vatican Printing Press, L’Osservatore Romano and the Film Library into one organisational structure. “This restructure requires a new vision.”
Mgr Ruiz described the current communications context characterised by the presence and development of digital media driven by convergence and interactivity. “This requires a rethinking of the Holy See’s information system. One that proceeds towards integration and single management leading to a communications system that can meet the needs of the Church’s mission.”
The reforms are not simply for financial purposes but rather involve deep cultural change. The request from the Holy Father is “to rethink the whole communicative system of the Holy See”. This requires new media production processes, creating a new communication stream, and putting the user first. “In theology, we refer to serving the human person first. This is the fundamental change in how we designed the service.”
Highlighting the ten features of this new digital media culture, Mgr Ruiz listed: multimedia; always on; dynamic; connective; time and space converging; encyclopaedic; informal; creating a reticulated class; reliability is not guaranteed; and the culture of using electronic equipment as continuously evolving.
He went on to speak about the obstacles to web communications, which he referred to as “change blockades”. These included: the fear of change; the fear of expressing oneself and being mistaken; the silence of those who want to remain neutral; the superlative ego; and the old paradigms related to communication watertight compartments.
Moving onto the opportunities in web communications, Mgr Ruiz listed the effects of connective intelligence; a shared vision and common language; new ideas take shape; space for a healthy and enriching debate emerges; new ideas and feedback flourish.
Highlighting the main challenges of the ‘reforms’, he said there must be “strong and deep change within the institutions, not just a make-up change. The reform must be done and employees must be involved. The reform has to make Holy See communications more effective and optimise organisational and economic aspects”.
He concluded with a quote from Albert Einstein, “Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things”.
The presentation was followed by an interview led by Helen Osman, Communications consultant and former Chief Communications Officer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The SIGNIS World Congress continues until June 22. The gathering will be followed by the US and Canadian Catholic Press Association annual conference until June 25.