You would think a philosopher, writer, actor, and a man connected to the cultural life of men and women would cast his gaze to the possibilities in what he terms, “the modern equivalents of the Areopagus.”
The first reference to which we introduce you is one of Saint Paul’s longest public speeches in the New Testament, where he finds himself in the center of Greek political, religious, and artistic expression.
After preaching in a number of places, St. Paul arrived in Athens, where he went to the Areopagus and proclaimed the Gospel in language appropriate to and understandable in those surroundings (cf. Acts 17:22-31). At that time the Areopagus represented the cultural center of the learned people of Athens, and today it can be taken as a symbol of the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed.
Pope John Paul II seemed to anticipate the explosion in various human media in his writing. Given the prevalence of computers, mobile phones, streaming tv, and many forms of instant and global communication between ordinary people, even the poor, have we kept up with the shift?
The first Areopagus of the modern age is the world of communications, which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a “global village.” The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large. In particular, the younger generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media. To some degree perhaps this Areopagus has been neglected.
If this was true, it’s certainly the case today. Hundreds of millions of people have embraced technology. I would guess the percentage of church ministers lags behind somewhat. Clergy are probably the weakest in this regard.
Generally, preference has been given to other means of preaching the Gospel and of Christian education, while the mass media are left to the initiative of individuals or small groups and enter into pastoral planning only in a secondary way.
This is a crucial point:
Involvement in the mass media, however, is not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel. There is a deeper reality involved here: since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church’s authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the “new culture” created by modern communications. This is a complex issue, since the “new culture” originates not just from whatever content is eventually expressed, but from the very fact that there exist new ways of communicating, with new languages, new techniques and a new psychology. Pope Paul VI said that “the split between the Gospel and culture is undoubtedly the tragedy of our time,”(Evangelii Nuntiandi 20) and the field of communications fully confirms this judgment.
I suspect that if a Church council were called today or in the near future, not only would mission and discipleship be elevated to primary documents, but also the matter of social communication.
What do you make of this statement:
There are many other forms of the “Areopagus” in the modern world toward which the Church’s missionary activity ought to be directed; for example, commitment to peace, development and the liberation of peoples; the rights of individuals and peoples, especially those of minorities; the advancement of women and children; safeguarding the created world. These too are areas which need to be illuminated with the light of the Gospel.
Indeed, today’s Areopagus must include #metoo, Black Lives Matter, the immigration crisis, monuments to white supremacy, and the pandemic. And that would just be this year. Pope Francis has begun to address the issue of environment in his writings as well. Without attention and commitment on any of these issues, the Church and its representatives risk being left behind. And I would say lagging not only in modern ethics and political concerns, but also in sanctity.
A final word on those who have been fortunate enough to travel the world. No human being had quite the reach and exposure as the pope who penned this document. Travel and exposure to new cultures can be a self-absorbed endeavor. Or it can be an opportunity, a gateway into something more fruitful and unifying for human kind:
We must also mention the immense “Areopagus” of culture, scientific research, and international relations which promote dialogue and open up new possibilities. We would do well to be attentive to these modern areas of activity and to be involved in them. People sense that they are, as it were, traveling together across life’s sea, and that they are called to ever greater unity and solidarity. Solutions to pressing problems must be studied, discussed and worked out with the involvement of all. That is why international organizations and meetings are proving increasingly important in many sectors of human life, from culture to politics, from the economy to research. Christians who live and work in this international sphere must always remember their duty to bear witness to the Gospel.
This document is available online here and is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana