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Different song, but new Jesuit leader 'on message'

Andrew Hamilton |  29 January 2008

Adolfo Nicolás SJ Adolfo Nicolás, elected last week, has spoken to the press for thefirst time as Jesuit General. His speech coincided with the releaseof Pope Benedict's speech for World Communications Day. The twospeeches together illuminate the relationship between churches andmedia.

Benedict XVI reflects on media out of the Catholic moral tradition.So he looks beyond the everyday questions that people in media askabout their profession. He asks what place the media should have insociety and what human values they should commend.His answer is that the media should and often do contribute to humanflourishing. They should enhance the respect for human dignity andcommend a true view of humanity.

He appreciates the contribution ofthe media: 'There is no denying the contribution they can make to thediffusion of news, to knowledge of facts and to the dissemination ofinformation: they have played a decisive part, for example, in thespread of literacy and in socialisation, as well as the development ofdemocracy and dialogue among peoples.'

But in his view the media, when judged by these high standards, oftenfail. The roots of failure lie in ideology, the cult of consumerismand the pursuit of profit. These things shortcircuit the pursuit ofthe deeper human truth. The Pope gives few examples, but does mentionthe growing trend for the media to create rather than report reality.

Written for a Christian audience, the speech concludes by commendinga respect for the dignity of each human being and the search for truthas the proper concern of the media.Even Christian journalists may find it challenging to set the Pope'sspeech against the everyday reality of their craft. They work in asociety in which there is no agreed understanding of humanflourishing, and in media which has no captive audience, and whosecontinued existence generally depends on profitability.

It is notalways easy to engage with deeper questions about truth.Adolfo Nicolás' speech illuminates this conversation. His own styleis self-deprecating and straightforward, that of a man talking to hisequals. He also remarks on the tendency of media to create reality,in this case to see a conflict between Pope and Jesuits. He remarksthat it is as easy instinctively to impose an image of conflict overthese relationships as it is to impose it over the daily ebb and flowof family life. In family life we should expect differences, but itis misleading and unilluminating to describe them simply as conflict.It makes a pathology out of the stuff of everyday life.

Fr Nicolás also is able to enter the Pope's world view, which lookssurely from the Catholic tradition at a world to which this traditionis strange. But he offers a different perspective. His own life wasshaped by his move from Spain to Japan. There he found a world inwhich many of his own natural responses and instinctive values werenot shared. He found also that where his own understanding of lifediffered from that which he encountered in Japan ways, this new worldoffered a richness that could enrich his own tradition.

Like the Pope, he concludes with the claims of truth in the media.But he promises his media audience a complex dialogue that goes beyondtruth to engagement: 'In the dialogue which we will have I hope tofollow the principles of Gandhi, who said that when we speak, it firstmust be true, because if it is not true it is not interesting; second,it must be charitable, and do good; and third, it must do good forothers.'

Benedict XVI and Adolfo Nicolás take a different way to the truth —the Pope directly from the tradition to a world of diversity, theJesuit through a new world laboriously entered back to the tradition.The differences do not add up to conflict but to rich complementarity.

Click here for Fr Nicolás' full speech.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.




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