Muslim Wire

ASIA SIGNIS head urges greater outreach to young people

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 20, 2009

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (UCAN) — The Church and media workers have to do more to reach out to young people, according to the head of a worldwide Church communications organization.

“Too often the rights of the young have been ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media,” observes Augustine Loorthusamy, president of SIGNIS. The worldwide Catholic association for professionals and academics in audiovisuals, broadcasting and new media is holding its world congress in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

“Our young do not wield political or economic power to sustain the interest of the media. They are not newsworthy,” he said in his opening speech on Oct. 18. The congress, which ends on Oct. 21, has the theme: “Media for a Culture of Peace — Children’s Rights, Tomorrow’s Promise.”

Speaking to more than 300 laypeople, priests and Religious involved in the communications apostolate, Loorthusamy asserted: “If the young are our future, they must have an inherent right to become involved and to participate in the media. They have the right to demand respect from the media.”

He also stressed that media workers are “morally bound” to provide opportunities for young people to express themselves.

The text of the main body of his speech follows:

Media for Peace

Our world is still marked by many bloody hot spots. Small and large destructive conflicts are everywhere across the globe. The rights of millions of people are violated almost on a daily basis. Women, tribal people, workers, children and media personnel continue to be exploited, abused and killed.

Before I finish this address many children will have died. One source records this: “Every day, more than 24,000 children die from hunger-related causes — statistically one child every five seconds.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 31 journalists have been killed in 2009 so far in their line of duty. According to Reporters without Borders, 673 journalists were arrested, 929 were physically attacked or threatened, 29 were kidnapped and 353 media outlets were censored.

Against such a background, the pursuit of peace is urgent. It is now the very basis of our continued survival. It is our reason for existence. Beyond all the outward differences, that is what all religion is about in spirit.

Peace is what the Church is all about. It is our act of compassion for the world we love. It is our act to nurture co-existence in the world we share. It is our act to make the world sustainable for our children.

That is why peace is the key to understanding this congress.

Congress with a Difference – Children, Our Future

This is going to be a congress with a difference. Our theme is about peace…and children’s rights.

Let me just share with you a great insight “On Children” by the famous Lebanese philosopher-poet, Kahlil Gibran:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth…”

Why children’s rights? Because children are our Future. Recognizing the rights of our Future is our moral and spiritual obligation. Have we served our obligation well?

Consider this information: According to the International Child Saving Alliance and a report by UNICEF, in 1999, 650 million children still lived in poverty; 12 million children under age five died every year, many of preventable illnesses; 130 million children, especially girls, had no schooling; 160 million children were malnourished; 250 million children were involved in some type of child labor, often in unsanitary and harsh conditions; and over 300,000 children were estimated to be fighting in armed conflicts throughout the world. This number is increasing.

If children and youth are our future, isn’t this a cause for serious concern? Where do we stand as a Church in the care of our children and youth? We seem to be struggling between intent and action.

Last year I visited a Catholic missionary (80 years old) in Europe, a friend of mine, who had worked as a priest, teacher and principal of a secondary School and as a guidance counselor in Asia and Europe for over 50 years. I asked him for strategies in working with young. I asked him, “Why are the youth not in church these days?”

He told me: “The youth are not in the Church because they are not in the Church, and they are not coming back.” I was really surprised. He asked me: “Why should the youth come to church, what have we to offer them?” We have too many old people taking leadership here, too many old ideas and that includes us priests. We don’t know the youth, he said.

He then told me: “If you want the youth to come to church you have to go and find out why they don’t want to come to church. You have to listen to them. You have to go where the youths go. Go to the clubs, go to the malls and get on the net and find out first what excites and interests them. What gives them meaning and what kind of a world they want. Then maybe they will take interest in what we have to say. They are out there doing many things and some excellent things too. We have to see, experience and understand that first.” It was a sobering experience. Even my daughter tells me going to Church is boring. How widespread is this phenomenon?

And what of the Media?

Though media personnel have made many sacrifices, too often the rights of the young have been ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media. Our young do not wield political or economic power to sustain the interest of the media. They are not newsworthy. They are just markets and adults shamelessly use them to sell products, including media products.

But if the young are our Future, they must have an inherent right to become involved and to participate in the media. They have the right to demand respect from the media.

We, as professional communicators, are morally bound to open up opportunities for our young to express themselves and to help us see the world we have created through their eyes, their frame of reference. This priority concern here for children is also aimed at enabling media professionals from across the world to examine, explore and plan activities taking into account the perspectives of children, children’s rights and the media.

This congress is a humble effort in that direction. You will see many young people creatively and actively involved here. The team responsible for children’s activities has been at it from day one. Not only do we have a wonderful cast of speakers on the issue but we also have in our midst children themselves who will be active throughout the congress days. There are kids with handkerchiefs. These handkerchiefs, each of them, has a story on the child and his or her rights. They come from 40 countries and were made by more than 2,000 children. There will be kids with cameras and kids with pens and pencils. They are going to record and say their piece. You will see them in action and we encourage you to interact with them.

In the end, we need them more then they need us. We need their imagination and involvement to help us seek peace in the world.

This thinking here is consistent with the Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the 41st World Communication Day: “Children and the Media: A Challenge for Educators”.

Also, it is our way of contributing to the consolidation of the UN inauguration of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010.

A Troubling Self-Reflection: Is Communication Still Central to Mother Church?

As we gather here to engage with peace and our children, we also have to re-assess our orientation, our challenges, our roles and our interventions as children of Mother Church.

The Church says communication is central to the evangelizing mission of the Church and as such must be central to all the ministries of the Church. It says communication must be a priority of the Church.

Is this really the case?

There have been significant successes when bishops, priests and religious have taken a hands-on approach and provided both spiritual and material support for the communications apostolate. There has been training and looking after of lay professionals, who have become a mainstay in this profession. When bishops, priests and religious and laity are active, the diocese is alive.

However, now there are storm clouds gathering at the horizon. There is a drop in vocations. Things are not so clear. The vision has blurred. Commitment has wavered.

Many church communication centers have a shortage of staff. Many lay professionals have gone on to secular institutions due to lack of organization and financial support. Those that remain are poorly trained and certainly poorly paid by professional standards.

The irony is that even as the Pope emphasizes the importance of communication and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications continues to push the communication agenda, the response out there in many places in the world has been lukewarm. We have to understand this and act on it if we want to serve Mother Church better.

Support for lay professionals from some Church authorities is not encouraging. All round financial support is not forthcoming. Cutting financial commitment to communications has become the order of the day. Many bishops, rectors of seminaries and Religious superiors, for whatever reasons, are still not too enthusiastic about communications despite the number of Church documents and pastoral instructions encouraging such activities as a priority.

There seems to be a widespread lethargy in the Church and certainly a lack of a sense of urgency in relation to communications. In a sense, we in the Church can do better.

We must be moving in the direction of what we can be … a compassionate, engaging and dialoguing Church.

What do we do now to make communications central to Mother Church? And re-appropriate the lost ground for those in the Church for whom communication is life?

If this congress is to bring change and be a congress with a difference, then underlying its activities here on peace and rights of children, we must also be involved in a caring re-examination of where we are heading.

The following can be considered as a course of action.

Communication is Building Bridges. And Building Bridges is Building Peace

We live in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-national global world. Building bridges must be our first concern for peaceful coexistence. And what makes building bridges possible? It is communication. It is based on recognition of the other and mutual respect.

It is not by accident that this congress is being held in a Buddhist nation, Thailand, where Christians are a very small minority and yet the Church has built a high level of credibility. The Church in Thailand is an example of communication in action, an example of bridge building.

This congress is about building bridges.

It is about building bridges between the young and the old, between the young and the media. But we also need to build bridges between and among people of all faiths. Promoting inter-faith is only possible by building bridges. Being ecumenical is about building bridges. Ensuring that professional lay people are not marginalized would mean building bridges between the lay and the clergy. We must also be a bridge between the Church and the secular media, working together in mutual respect and on mutual concerns. We need to do this also with other secular institutions and global agencies. These are some sustainable ways to build a world of peaceful coexistence. Some of us have started doing this and that is a positive step.

If SIGNIS is to be an active communication arm of the Church, it must make its messages plausible and acceptable to all. It must also seriously and bravely address the challenges we are facing today within the Church. If we fail in this we destroy the ability to build bridges. Instead we will build sectarianism and short-sightedness and put ourselves on the path to social and spiritual oblivion. Sectarianism kills peace and we will bring upon ourselves a future not sustainable for our young.

Communication Ad Intra and Ad Extra

The future will be tough. We will need sustained selfless action in and out of the Church. We must take a stand here and commit ourselves to play the role of “bridge builders” in order that we may build a peaceful sustainable world, if not for us at least for our future, our children

My nephew, in grade five and 11 years old, goes to a school of many races and of different faiths. I asked him how many students there were in his class and how many were Christians. He told me that there were around 36 students and only four were Christians. He told me there were Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and one Sikh. I asked him what was a Hindu and he said they don’t eat cows, and about Muslims they don’t eat pigs and Buddhists they were Chinese and they eat pork. About Catholics — they eat everything. About the Sikhs — they have red turbans. I asked him if he studied about other religions in his catechism class. He said no. That was his understanding of other faiths.

I told this story to the coordinator of catechism classes in my parish and asked her if teaching our students the basics of different faiths in the country made sense. She readily agreed but she said it is not in the curriculum.

Some have even told me, what is the use of studying other faiths when we are not even sure of our own? It is risky to teach them about other religions. Is it risky even though our children daily interact with children of other faiths?

This reminds me of a story about Gandhi.

A militant Hindu, who admitted killing a Muslim child in revenge for the murder of his own son by militant Muslims, came to Gandhi, who was almost dying from prolonged fasting.

He laid down his weapons and urged Gandhi to break his fast, saying he did not want to carry the sin of his death. The Mahatma listened intently and told the man of a way out of his past sins. “You go back, find a Muslim child whose parents were killed by Hindus and bring it up strictly as a Muslim not a Hindu.

Gandhi said this at a time of severe sectarian riots. Unless we accept and respect each other’s faith we can never have lasting and genuine peace.

There is always a risk but without taking the risk we cannot be a prophetic Church.

Ladies and gentlemen, on this Mission Sunday, may the Holy Spirit guide us in our mission of peace.

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