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Fratelli Tutti: The Illusion of Communications

“Connectivity can build bridges but it is not capable of uniting humanity.”

This line is from the section, “The Illusion of Communication.” It is found in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. It’s a very short section, only two paragraphs. But the Pope packs a lot into it.

The last four years saw a tremendous and unfortunate increase in vitriol. Political parties, ideological factions, countries, cultures, and people tried to win the fight. Pope Francis mentions that this causes this disintegration of civility. He writes:

The right to privacy scarcely exists. Everything has become a spectacle to be examined and expected. People’s lives are under constant surveillance. People’s lives are combed over, laid bare, and bandit about. Respect for the other therefore disintegrates. (This leads to) Digital campaigns are paid for and destroyed. They are not a positive form of mutual support.

What I found fascinating was the Pope’s antidote. He says to look at the model of Jesus and the incarnation. Human relationships are sloppy. It’s like making good kielbasa or fine wine. Good fruitful human interactions take time. This challenging process cannot be digitized nor circumvented.

The Holy Father draws a verbal picture of what this looks like: “Relationships need physical gestures. Facial expressions, moments of silence, body language, smells, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration are part of human communication.”

I recently preached a homily where I told the story of two students from the University of Penn Newman Center. One nursing major asked another student why he never came to the chapel for the rosary. The other student said that he did do a rosary. The future nurse was curious. She inquired where and when. He mentioned that he had created a digital avatar of himself. Thus the virtual avatar weekly went into a virtual chapel and said a virtual rosary. After a few moments of silence, she said, “You need to come and pray with us in person.” When the other student asks why she replied,

“Because hope always has a human face.”

A rather profound and prophetic statement prefiguring the Pope’s insights.

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