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‘Social’ media can be anti-social if we forget the person

In his message for World Communications Day on June 1, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to put communication “at the service of an authentic culture of encounter,” using the story of the Good Samaritan to enforce the idea that good communication always leads to “neighborliness.”

Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, an assistant professor at the Loyola Institute for Ministry, spoke May 27 on the pope’s message during a presentation on faith and communication at Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville.

“The Good Samaritan saw a person,” she said. “In the digital context, we need to remember that, to hear that and to be balm” to others we encounter via social media.

We also need to remember, as Father Ronald Calkins and others pointed out during her talk, that personal communication is the best communication.

“The most fundamental media we have is our own body,” she said, “in which we convey God’s presence in its fullest.” God’s most perfect form of communication, after all, was the person of Jesus. “God did not come to us as a set of ideas; God came to us as a person” and face-to-face communication is the most effective.

Still, Zsupan-Jerome added, there are opportunities to encounter others through social media. “I can Skype with my grandma in Hungary,” she said, which is striving toward authentic encounter.

“Every act of communication should lead to something deeper,” she said, citing church documents such as “Inter Mirifica” and “Communio et Progressio,” which call for a trajectory leading from community to communication to communion. “We can’t always fully encapsulate that,” she said, “but we can try to get near to that reality.”

On the opposite end, the world of social communication can often veer from the idea of authentic encounter.

“It can be a culture of violent words (and cyberbullying) when we forget about the person on the other side of the screen,” she said. When we communicate through digital media, she added, we need to remember “there are other people there. It is a chance to interact, to encounter the other. When we text or Tweet, we should do so in that spirit.”

That brought her back to the pope’s message and the parable of the Good Samaritan. In our digital culture, “people will be left on the side of the road unless we stop and give them comfort and share the Good News.”

Zsupan-Jerome recently returned from Rome, where she met with members of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication to complete research for her book, “Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age,” which will be published in the fall by Liturgical Press. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Catholic World News