AN ADDRESS OF WELCOME PRESENTED BY THE DIOCESAN DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, REV FR. BENJAMIN ACHI, AT THE OCCASION OF THE WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY CELEBRATIONS HELD AT THE HOLY GHOST CATHEDRAL, OGUI ENUGU, THIS DAY, 24th MAY, 2020.
Your Excellency, My lord bishop,
The Cathedral Administrator,
Sisters, Members of the consecrated life present,
Ladies and gentlemen of the press
My dear people of God.
I respectfully add my voice to that of his Lordship, in once more welcoming all of you to this mass marking this year’s edition of the World Communications Day Celebrations, which, thanks to divine inspiration and great wisdom of the Holy Father Pope Paul VI, has remained an annual celebration since 1967.
This year’s celebration, the 54th in the series, happens to be very unusual and unique in one significant respect. For the first time in our life time, we are confronted with a very unusual and completely unprecedented situation, where has literally arm twisted us to change the way we think, act, speak, relate and socialize with one another in the human community. The challenge confronting us, seem to have gone the whole hog, when it had to affect even the way we worship. When we gather before the Lord in the Christian community like we just did, we are expected, in keeping with the words of the psalmist, to open our mouths and “ring out our joy to the Lord and hail the God who saves us…” (Ps 94:1). Today ironically, we are seated in this Cathedral and all through this mass with the same mouths of ours, all closed by masks, serving us some dose of discomfort, as we carry out that salutary project of ringing out our praise to our source of life. Nobody would ordinarily choose to communicate with their mouth closed, but this has incidentally become our lot. The movement of the lips of an interlocutor in a face-to-face, inter-personal communication, sometimes helps in driving the message home. The prevalent situation has denied us that privilege.
Those who have been keeping track with the Holy Father, Pope Francis would notice that his choice of the themes for world Communications Day Celebrations in recent years, have followed a particular trajectory. As a wise pastor who is dynamic, he has given no room to what the French Psychiatrist and Political Philosopher Frantz Fanon would refer to as cognitive dissonance. Rather, he has carefully been following the signs of the times, and has through his themes in recent years, been making repeated calls to communicators and indeed to all of us, to take a closer look at how and what we communicate if our dream of a progressive and peaceful human community that would enjoy a better appreciation of the gospel, would come to reality.
In 2017, the supreme pontiff, taking cognizance of the current trends in the media world, invited media professionals, practitioners and relevant stakeholders to bring their skills and expertise to bear in order to dispel the fear and feelings of despondency ravaging today’s society due to the unwholesome activities of bad elements in the media world. His theme for that year’s celebration was: “Fear Not for I’m with you: Communicating Hope and Trust in our time”. In what seemed every bit like a follow up to his urgent call of the previous year, the Holy Father, the following year 2018, chose as the theme of that year’s edition, “The Truth Will Set You Free… (Jn 8:34) Fake News and Journalism for Peace”. This theme, which in categorical terms, spoke to the heart of the problem, was indeed an invitation to confront the current trend in various media platforms especially the social media where outright falsehood, half-truths and such brands of information that Kellyanne Conway in 2017, referred to as alternative facts, have continued to bring an appreciable percentage of the human family especially in our own clime, in a total state of confusion. Last year 2019, the Holy Father went a step further in the same direction with his choice of the theme: “We Are Members, One of Another (Eph 4:15) From Social Network Communities to The Human Community”. The Holy Father with this theme, called our attention to the adverse and very dangerous effect, that the same modern means of communication especially the social media are having on our interpersonal relationships as members of the human family, making us lonely and forlorn, in a world inhabited by seven billion.
However, in spite of the alienation that the modern means of communication seem to bring, the Holy Father nonetheless recognises the fact that they still afford us unlimited opportunities to exchange volumes of messages and information and to tell our stories. And so this year, as we have heard, the Holy Father chose the theme: “That you may tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex 10:2) :Life becomes history. Underscoring the pride of place that stories hold in our lives as human persons created with that intrinsic and primordial desire to know, the Holy Father however reminds us that a story can have variegated effects, depending on its contents which are usually informed by the intentions of the teller. And that is why, the same story that the same story that can create, and build and unite when told correctly, can also destroy, diminish and divide when deliberately mischievously twisted and told wrongly.
As principal actors in the media space, it falls primarily within our constituency not only to tell but promote such good stories that dispel fear, promote harmony and peaceful coexistence and would help build up the world of our dreams. A line in the national anthem of our richly endowed but grossly mismanaged country makes a promise, that “the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain …” It is our collective effort at creating and sustaining authentic narratives that would emphasize more what unites rather than what divides us, that would facilitate our fulfilment of this solemn promise. We must rise to the occasion, take our destiny in our hands and tell our stories ourselves.
The coronavirus pandemic which is currently ravaging the world, literally sprang a surprise on all of us and has indeed left us with a story that would resonate in generations to come. In this year’s message, the Holy Father stated that “stories of different ages all have a common “loom”: the thread of their narrative involves “heroes”, including everyday heroes, who in following a dream confront difficult situations and combat evil, driven by a force that makes them courageous, the force of love” And so within the context of this year’s celebration, we need to pay glowing tributes to those heroes of our age and time, driven by the force of love, who have been on the front line in the fight against this pandemic and some of whom have even paid the supreme prize in the course of this fight. These include medics of all disciplines and competences: doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and indeed health care providers at all levels. It is however regrettable that when such frontline heroes are celebrated, members of the fourth estate of the realm, those media men and women, who are always there to bring the rest of us, up to speed with the goings on, are usually forgotten and unsung. And so today dear brothers and sisters, we heartily appreciate all of you, people of the media who have been making concerted efforts, to set the records straight in the midst of tons of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic, which have continued to throw spanner in the works and have left many people dying, more out of fear generated by such false stories than even of the pandemic itself.
Finally, as Christian communicators, the Holy Father through his message this year, has invited us to be true servants of the gospel, helping to tell our Christian stories in a way it would help renew the face of the earth. Taking a cue from the master story teller himself, our lord Jesus Christ, we are enjoined as Christian media practitioners, to see it as our mandate, to pick up the gauntlet and tell the Christian story in its true and unadulterated form and thus create narratives that the future generation can always count on, for as the saying goes, “until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt would always glorify the hunter”.
Special thanks to his lordship, who like a father ever mindful of his children, was even the one that opened up a conversation with me on this year’s celebrations and has given us this special Eucharistic celebration. We appreciate your Excellency for this. We also thank profusely our young and vibrant Cathedral Administrator, Very Rev Fr Raphael Ozonwafor and the priests working with him in the Cathedral for hosting us here as always. Thanks to my able assistant Fr Anthony Aneke and staff of the directorate of social communications in our diocese for your commitment.
We equally appreciate all of you ladies and gentlemen of the press and other members of the faithful with us in this mass for your encouraging presence. Wishing you all abundant blessings in this year’s celebration as we look forward to our usual robust and more elaborate celebration by next year, hoping by God’s grace, that the pandemic must have run its course by then.
Thanks so much and God bless.
August 31, 2021
February 13, 2020