THE PAIN STRENGTHENS THE PROMISE; a Reflection on the theme of the 54th World Communications Day
By Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Bishop of Oyo Diocese and Chairman of CEPACS
The pontificate of Pope Francis is well known for opening the Church’s perspective and teaching on different aspects of faith. Depending on the theme and understanding of the faithful his choice of style has brought refreshing pleasure or choking discomfort to many. The Pope however trudges on, this time when in his message for the 54th World Communications Day entitled: “That you may tell your children and grandchildren: Life becomes History” (Ex 10:2), he addressed the importance and texture of storytelling. The pope’s message essentially challenges humanity, so infected today with tragedies and bad news, to transform into “a narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze”.
The Pope recognizes the nature of human beings as storytellers and how important, even indispensable, stories are to human existence. Told in an authentic manner, stories then become the reason, the motivation, the palliative that helps us to 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, 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.
The Pope’s choice of theme thus equips peoples 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 the stories of their past when things were better, more peaceful and times were more prosperous to gain balance and comfort. 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.
This proposal of authentic storytelling strongly challenges our contemporary environment of exploitative fake news and sugar-coated falsehood which seem to be dominant all over the world today. Those who manufacture baseless, destructive and sensational stories and all who mindlessly disseminate them should pay good 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.
In short, the Holy Father says we need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life. This is where in this year’s message, the ruber hits the road. Even as we take for granted the Sacred Scripture as the story of stories, we learn to give more value and space to “the other scripture”, That is our oral, cultural and traditional history as well as contemporary events. Here we must collocate 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 the 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 protagonists in our own story, showing that God is the editor and choreographer of all what 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.
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. (1Pt:1). “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 the Diocese and all over the world. Speak up for the truth, for the faith 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 calls “an irrepressible dignity” that is worthy of the mission of Jesus Christ.
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 loner remain tied to regrets and sadness, bound to an unhealthy memory that burdens our hearts; rather, 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).