The Role of Communication in the Evangelizing Mission

Author: Jurgen Ommerborn, SVD
Subject: Communication and Spirituality
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: Arnold Janssen Secretariat
Year: 2020
  1. The concept of communication

In this talk I am to speak about the role of communication in evangelization. In Literature the word “social” is added to “communication”, and the term “social communication” owes its existence the Vatican II ‘s degree on the Instruments of Social Communication, Inter Mirifica, from 1964. There this term is introduced; the reason being that the Council wanted to emphasize that communication is to be “understood as the communication of and in human society. This includes all ways of communication in society (Eilers, Social communication in theological perspective, p. 7).

  1. Foundation of all communication

As Christians we say that the basis of all social communication is “God as a Trinitarian communicating God” (ibid., p. 8). Creation, including humanity, is the result of God’s Word: God spoke. and everything came into being. And this God has been in communication with humanity right from the beginning as Genesis tells us. And in Hebrews 1:1 we read: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. St. John’s gospel simply says: And the Word became flesh. The incarnation of the Word is the summit of God’s communication with us – the summit, not the end: for the incarnate Word sent the Spirit to lead us into all truth. “He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26). The Holy Spirit “is the agent of God’s self-communication” (Eilers, ibid., p. 13).

Back to Christ we say: Christ is the perfect communicator who, in His God-man nature, unites God with human beings as well as human beings among themselves. The high point of Christ’s communication is that he gives himself in love to human beings. This way of communication is the paradigm for any Christian communication and should serve as model for communication in society (An Vhu Ta in ibid, p. 35).

  1. A sign in art of the Triune God’s loving communication with humanity: MERCY SEAT

Under the aspect of communication, we can say: The Father gave Jesus Christ (on the cross) to the world in the Spirit – and in art this is expressed in the so-called MERCY SEAT. In Steyl we have such a mercy seat in three places: the oldest is on the tabernacle door of the Upper Church in St. Michael’s and then also in the front of Fr. Arnold’s sarcophagus in the Lower Church. A modern version of the Mercy Seat by a Steyl artist covers the back wall of our Oratorium. The late Cardinal Carlo Martini sees this illustration as “artistic expression of the theological fact of a communicating God” (ibid., p.61). Martini says about this mercy seat: “the Spirit opens the Trinity to the world, at the same time, he, in him, unites the world with the Son, and in the Son, with the Father.” This “Trinity scene represents the supreme act of the divine communication. Each person of the Trinity gives himself to the other. An extraordinary and merciful gift drives from this divine self-communication to humanity which is, in turn, called to enter into this circle of love.” (ibid., p. 62) And that in turn is beautifully expressed in Dei Verbum, no. 2 where we read:

It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.
By this revelation, then, the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them in his company.

This Trinitarian loving God’s revelation and invitation is to go today to the whole of humanity though evangelistic communication. This invitation is good news, euangelion, evangelium and therefore its communication has to be done with joy as Pope Francis untiringly emphasized in Evangelii Gaudium – the joy of the Gospel.

How beautiful and fitting that this mercy seat was placed by our founder in the St. Michael’s Upper Church – at the tabernacle door: From this church many evangelist – missionaries went into the whole world to bring God’s mercy into the often so merciless world.

And with that I am finally at my topic: The role of communication in the evangelizing mission.

I will proceed in this way: After shortly looking into Vatican II decree “Inter Mirifica”, Communio et Progressio, written by the newly established Pontifical Council for Social Communication, published in 1971, its follow-up instruction “Aetatis Novae” 1992, I look at those papal messages for the annual World Day of Communication which talk about communication and evangelization.

I. Inter Mirifica (1964)

This decree begins with the sentence:

Man’s genius has, with God’s help, produced marvelous technical inventions from creation on, especially in our times. The church… is particularly interested in those which … reach and influence not merely single individuals but the very masses and even the whole of human society.  These are the press, the cinema, radio, television and others of a like nature. These can rightly be called “the means of social communication”.

“They contribute greatly to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God.”

The church received from Jesus the task to preach the gospel. Therefore it is her task to employ “the means of social communication to announce the good news of salvation”.

And it is “the Church’s birthright to use and own any of these media which are necessary or useful for the formation of Christians.”

II. Communio et Progressio – Pastoral Instruction issued by the Pontifical Commission for the Means of Social Communication. (1971)

The instruction sees the need for using the social media to proclaim the Good News. The model of all communication is Jesus Christ, who is called the perfect communicator. His role as communicator is expressed in the following words:

While he was on earth, Christ revealed Himself as the Perfect communicator. Through His incarnation he utterly identified himself with those who were to receive his communication and he gave his message not only in words, but in the whole manner of his life. He spoke from within of his people. He preached the Divine Message without fear of compromise. He adjusted to this people’s way of talking and to their patterns of thought. And he spoke out of the predicament of his time.

Communication, so the instruction makes clear, is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotions.  At its most profound level it is giving of self in love. In the institution of the Eucharist Christ gave us the most perfect and most intimate form of communion between God and man possible in this life, and out of this, the deepest possible unity between men.  Further, Christ communicated to us His life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity.

The gospel spread by the means of social communication will promote the brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God.

III. Aetatis Novae, – second document by this Pontifical Commission from 1992.

This document defines communication in and by the Church as “essentially communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ”. It is the proclamation of the Gospel as a prophetic, liberating word to the men and women of our times; it is testimony, in the face of radical secularization, to divine truth and to the transcendent destiny of the human person.

Yet the social media are not the only means of proclaiming the gospel, but there are alternative media, like folk media: in some societies they can be more effective than any of the new media in spreading the gospel because they make possible greater personal participation and reach deeper levels of human feeling and motivation.

IV. Rapid Development (2005) – Pope John Paul

The new social media with their techniques and technologies are an integral part of the church’s mission in the third millennium.

In the Word made flesh the communication between God and humanity has reached its perfection.

In his life time the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Today we can ask the Lord: Lord, help us to understand how to communicate with God and with other human beings through the marvelous communication media.

We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media. If used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, they can facilitate the communication among ecclesial communities more effective.

In the communications media the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good. The Church willingly employs these media to furnish information about itself and to expand the boundaries of evangelization, of catechesis and formation, considering their use as a response to the command of the Lord: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

In conclusion the Pope says:

Do not be afraid of new technologies. They rank among the marvelous things – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal kingdom…

May the Blessed Virgin help us to communicate by every means the beauty and joy of life in Christ our Savior.


The World Day of Communication is held every year on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of Catholic Journalists.

  1. 1967 – Pope Paul VI

The first World Communication Day was held on May 6, 1967.

In a solemn Eucharist Pope Paul addressed the communicators as CULTORES VERBI, Friends of the Word. Like John the Baptist they are called to proclaim the Lord. They are to form, to edify and to save people through the process of human communication. (Eilers, Communicating Church, p. 159-160)

  1. 1984 – Pope John Paul II

The Pope admonished the communicators with the words:

May those who use the means of social communication for the purposes of evangelization – contributing also to building up in this way a cultural fabric in which man, aware of his relationship with God, becomes more man – be therefore aware of their LOFTY MISSION. May they feel the responsibility of transmitting the Gospel message in its purity and totality, without confusing the divine doctrine with men’s opinion.

  1. 1990 – Pope John Paul: “The Christian Message in a Computer Culture”

With the advent of computer telecommunications and what are known as computer participation systems, the Church is offered further means for fulfilling her mission. Methods of facilitating communication and dialogue among her own members can strengthen the bonds of unity between them. Immediate access to information makes it possible for her to deepen her dialogue with the contemporary world. In the new “computer culture” the Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given issue or event. She can hear more clearly the voice of public opinion, and enter into a continuous discussion with the world around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common search for solutions to humanity’s many pressing problems.


It is clear that the church must avail herself of the new resources provided by human exploration in computer and satellite technology for her ever pressing task of evangelization. Her most vital and urgent message has to do with knowledge of Christ and the way of salvation which he offers. This is something she must put before people of every age, inviting them to embrace the Gospel out of love.

  1. 1997 – Pope John Paul – “Communicating Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life

This theme provides an opportunity for the Church to meditate and act on the specific contributions which the communications media can offer in making known the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. ..

Perhaps one of the finest gifts which we could offer to Jesus Christ on the two thousandth anniversary of his birth would be that the Good News will be at last be made known to every person in the world – first of all through the living witness of Christian example, but also through the media: Communicating Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

  1. 1998 – Pope John Paul “Sustained by the Spirit, Communicating Hope

Christian communicators are to communicate hope to people; but this will happen only if they are men and women of prayer. That is so because, empowered by the Holy Spirit, prayer enables us to be “ready always with an answer to everyone who ask a reason for the hope” they see in us. This is how the Christian communicator learns to present the message of hope to the men and women of our times with the force of truth.

Furthermore, properly used, the means of social communication can help to create and sustain a human community based on justice and charity; and, in so far as they do that, they will be signs of hope.

  1. 2000 – Pope John Paul – “Proclaiming Christ in the Media at the Dawn of the New Millennium”

The proclamation of the gospel through the media is necessary today. The reason is:

For many people, the experience of living is to a great extent an experience of the media. The proclamation of Christ must be part of this experience. (no. 7)

Media presentations which call attention to authentic human needs, especially those of the weak, the vulnerable and the marginalized, can be an implicit proclamation of the Lord.

Besides implicit proclamation, Christian communicators should also seek out ways to speak explicitly of Jesus crucified and risen, of his triumph over sin and death, in a manner suited to the medium used and to the capacities of the audiences.  (no., 10)

In order to witness to Christ it is necessary to encounter him oneself and foster a personal relationship with him through prayer, the Eucharist and sacramental reconciliation, reading and reflecting on God’s word, the study of Christian doctrine and service to others. And always, if it is authentic, this will be the Spirit’s work much more than our own. (no. 11)

The great jubilee of the 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem must be an opportunity and a challenge for the Lord’s disciples to bear witness in and through the media to the consoling Good News of our salvation. In this year of favour, may the media give voice to Jesus himself, clearly and joyously, with faith and hope and love. To proclaim Christ in the media at the dawn of the new millennium is not only a necessary part of the Church’s evangelizing mission; it is also a vital, inspiring and hope – filled enrichment of the media’s message.

  1. 2001 – Pope John Paul “Preach from the Housetops: The Gospel in the Age of Global Communication”

In today’s world, housetops are almost always marked by a forest of transmitters and antennae sending and receiving messages of every kind to and from the four corners of the earth. It is vitally important to ensure that among these many messages the word of God is heard. To proclaim the faith from the housetops today means to speak Jesus’ word in and through the dynamic world of communications.

It is vital too that at the beginning of this new millennium we keep in mind the mission ad gentes which Christ has entrusted to the Church. An estimated two thirds of the world’s six billion people do not in any real sense know Jesus Christ; and many of them live in countries with ancient Christian roots, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live far removed from the Lord and his Gospel. … Certainly, an effective response to this situation involves much more than the media; but in striving to meet the challenge Christians cannot possibly ignore the world of social communications. Indeed, media of every kind can play an essential role in direct evangelization and in bringing to people the truths and values which support and enhance human dignity.

Christian communicators have “a prophetic task, a vocation: to speak out against the false gods and idols of the day – materialism, hedonism, consumerism, narrow nationalism. Above all, they have the duty and privilege to declare the truth – the glorious truth about human life and human destiny revealed in the Word made flesh.

May Catholics involved in the world of social communications preach the truth of Jesus ever more boldly and joyfully from the heart of God’s self-communication in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

  1. – 2002 – Pope John Paul “Internet: A New Forum For Proclaiming ´The Gospel”

Now, with the communications and information revolution in full swing, the Church stands unmistakably at another decisive gateway. It is fitting therefore that on this World Communications Day 2002 we should reflect on the subject: “Internet:  A new Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel.”

The Internet is certainly a new FORUM understood in the ancient Roman sense of that public space where politics and business were transacted, where religious duties were fulfilled, where much of the social life of the city took place, and where the best and the worst of human nature was on display. It was a crowded and bustling urban space, which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. This is no less true of cyberspace, which is as it were a new frontier opening up at the beginning of this new millennium. Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change. For the church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord’s command to “put out into the deep”: Duc in altum.  … The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strength and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message, especially among the young who increasingly turn to the world of cyberspace as a window to the world.

At a subsequent stage, the Internet can also provide the kind of follow-up which evangelization requires. Especially in an unsupportive culture, Christian living calls for continuing instruction and catechesis, and this is perhaps the area in which the Internet can provide excellent help.

It is clear, then, that while the Internet can never replace that profound experience of God which only the living, liturgical and sacramental life of the Church can offer, it can certainly provide a unique supplement and support in both preparing for the encounter with Christ in community and sustaining the new believer in the journey of faith which then begins.

The fact that through the Internet people multiply their contacts in ways hitherto unthinkable opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel. But it is also true that electronically mediated relationships can never take the place the direct human contact required for genuine evangelization. For evangelization always depends upon the personal witness of the one sent to evangelize. How does the church lead from the kind of contact made possible by the internet to the deeper communication demanded by Christian proclamation?

Finally, in these troubled times, let me ask: how can we ensure that this wondrous instrument first conceived in the context of military operations can now serve the cause of peace? Can it favour that culture of dialogue, participation, solidarity and reconciliation without which peace cannot flourish? The Church believes it can; and to ensure that this will happen she is determined to enter this new forum, armed with the Gospel of Christ, the prince of peace.

(no. 5)

The internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For its only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man.

Therefore, on this World Communication Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world “the glory of God on the face of Christ.” May God bless all those who work for this aim.

  1. – 2009: Pope Benedict “New Technologies, New Relationships, Promoting a Culture of Respect and Friendship

In this message the Pope addressed in particular young people.

I would encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship. (489)

Today, the proclamation of Christ in the world of new technologies requires a profound knowledge of this world, if the technologies are to serve our mission adequately.

It falls, in particular to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital continent.”  Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the “Good News” of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people.. Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. Our faith can respond to these expectations: may you become its heralds.

Pope Benedict’s message for 2010 was deleted.

2012 – Pope Benedict “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization

In this message Pope Benedict shares some thoughts on an aspect of communication which is often overlooked: It concerns the relationship between silence and word.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content, cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible….When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. We have to create an environment that t maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds. (no. 2)

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak. This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence “listens to the Word and causes it to blossom” I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication. (no.7)

2013- Pope Benedict


Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important.  The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there. (no, 4)

The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable or reaching the minds and hearts of all. In the digital world the written word is often accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. (no. 5)

A particularly significant way of offering witness will be through a willingness to give oneself to others by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence. The growing dialogue in social networks about faith and belief confirms the importance and relevance of religion in public debate in the life of society. (no,. 6)

2014- Pope Francis  – Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter

The new social media are contributing to humanity being closely connected. Pope Francis’ concern he expresses in the question:

How can we encounter others in the light of the Gospel – for instance in the light of the parable of the Good Samaritan? The Pharisee had asked Jesus: Who is my neighbor? But we can rephrase  the question, sounding now something like this: To whom can we be a neighbor as the good Samaritan had been?

In concluding this his first World Communication Day the pope writes:

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of being loving and merciful neighbors to those wounded and left on the side of the road.

Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.  She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in formation technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.

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