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Most Rev. Dr. Augustine Obiora Akubeze’s homily on World Communication Day

Homily on 13 May 2018 World Communications Day at St. Paul Catholic Church, Benin City

+Augustine O. Akubeze

Archbishop of Benin City

Theme: The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32): Fake news and journalism for peace

 

 

1.Introduction: Let us praise God who has blessed humanity with the gift of communication and the skill to maximize its use in our contemporary time. It is wonderful to be in your midst this morning as the Church celebrates the seventh Sunday of Easter and World Communications Day. I greet in a special way your Parish Priest, Very Rev. Fr. Edwin Omorogbe, and thank God for saving him from the kidnappers who took him hostage for five days. May Gods name be praised both now and forever. I also thank all of you for your prayers for him while he was away. It showed the unity that exists amongst us and in this Parish community. May God richly bless you all.

I greet and welcome in a special way the Chaplain, Grand Commanders, President and members of the Agape Intelligent Marshalls of our Archdiocese who are having the investiture of new Grand Commanders and a mini launching for their shoe factory project at this mass. I thank you for the wonderful work you do for us, ensuring the safety of lives and properties in our Archdiocese and beyond. Your dedication and commitment to your work is impressive. It is my prayer that God will always protect you and bless you with his peace through Christ our Lord.

I respectfully welcome all men and women engaged in the very important work of communication. I need not remind you of the great responsibility that lies on your shoulders. The information or news you spread either form a people or deform the people. It depends on how you spread the news. You have the power to form Nigerians to respond well to the needs of the society and you can also use the same power to deform and cause conflicts among the people. It is our prayer that God will imbue you with his wisdom to enable you carry out this special mission he has entrusted to you. 

My greetings to all political office holders, traditional rulers, all journalists and everyone who have come here today to thank God for the gift of communication to humanity and who have gathered for this Eucharistic celebration. I bring you the peace and the love of Christ, which is beyond all telling and it is my prayer that you will always experience this peace in your lives, in your families, in your businesses and in all your endeavours, through Christ our Lord.

2.The Message of the Holy Father for World Communications Day 2018: Today is a day the Church has set aside to celebrate World Communications Day. It is the only worldwide celebration called for by the Second Vatican Council (“Inter Mirifica, 1963). We are reminded once more, that as Catholics we are to explore every legitimate social means of communication to spread the Gospel message. This year our attention is drawn to the need for truth and the avoidance of fake news. In his message to mark the 52nd World Communications Day, the Holy Father reflecting on the theme: The truth will set you free (Jn.8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace, reminds us of the need to uphold the truth and shun the spread of fake news if we truly want peace – for peace is the true news.

The only way to act responsibly as good journalists is to tell the truth. The truth will set you free (John 8:32). Truth builds peace. Truth leads the people to the paradise created by God. Humanity lost paradise because of the embrace of fake news, or the lie told by the serpent, or the devil. The Holy Father warns of the effect of lies upon humankind. Going through the scripture he notes the first biblically recorded lie and its far-reaching implications. I will like to quote the exact words of Pope Francis to underscore the impact of lies in the life of a society: 

In the account of the first sin, the tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true: "Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" (Gen 3:1). In fact, God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree: "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat" (Gen 2:17). The woman corrects the serpent but lets herself be taken in by his provocation: "Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death" (Gen 3:2). Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms; after listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: "You will not die!" (Gen 3:4).

The tempterdeconstruction” then takes on an appearance of truth: "God knows that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). Gods paternal command, meant for their good, is discredited by the seductive enticement of the enemy: "The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and desirable" (Gen 3:6). This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.

We live in an age of the fast spread of fake news. The devil himself is the originator of fake news. The problem with fake news or lies is that it contains something that is true, but it is not the whole truth. That was the exact tactics of the devil in the passage we just read. Today, many of us do not examine critically the information we receive from the social media. There is a growing sense of declaring the social media infallible.” Lots of people believe that whatever they get from WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are necessarily correct. When a person is faced with a question, the person quickly googles the meaning of the word or phrase. Whatever he or she gets is taken as truth. Journalists must learn to discern the truth and only publish after due diligence. When you journalists spread fake news, we as a society become so deformed and vulnerable. 

What drives fake news is often the greed to satisfy our desires or the desire to destroy other people. Pope Francis notes and I quote: What is at stake is our greed. Fake news often goes viral, spreading so fast that it is hard to stop, not because of the sense of sharing that inspires the social media, but because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings. We are to confront the spread of fake news by being truthful. Only the truth has the capacity to set us free. Pope Francis says the most sure means of confronting lies in a society is through the proclamation of the truth. 

One other antidote to the spread of fake news is the audacity of journalists to tell the truth. The Holy Father says: 

people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language. If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news. In todays world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission.

 

Our dear journalists, we commend you for the good work many of you are doing. Some of you are risking your lives to cover important stories to keep the people informed. You journalists are expected to help to shine light on area of corruption in a system. I would therefore, like to invite all journalists to embrace the mission of spreading the truth and ensuring that fake news is stopped. Pope Francis writing on this subject notes: 

On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice. A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.

 

This is the kind of journalism that forms a society and set the people free. You journalists must resist the temptation of covering only bad news. Do not cover only bad and tragic stories. Also cover the news that there is peace and that many people are working hard to ensure that the people live happily in peace and justice.

 

Catholic Media Personnel in addition to what we have just stated must also ensure that their faith in the teaching of the Church is reflected in the formation of the conscience of the society. You must permeate the world through your work with the flavour of the Gospel of Christ. You must promote human freedom, the right to information that will help the electorate make informed decisions about their political leaders. You must promote freedom of religious expression, freedom of gender equality, freedom of free association, and must be bold to condemn crimes against humanity. As Catholic Media Personnel we all look up to you to continue the good work you are doing. May the Lord bless you always through Christ our Lord.

 

3.The Anniversary of the First Fatima Apparitions: Today, May 13 marks the 101 anniversary of the apparitions of Mary at Fatima. Last year we celebrated the centenary of the apparitions. I want to use this opportunity to remind all Catholics that the invitation to continue to pray the rosary for peace should continue. The rosary is a powerful weapon. Each time we pray the rosary we invoke God using the words Jesus himself taught us in the Lords prayer; we praise Mary using the words of the Archangel Gabriel and the inspiration that came through the influence of the Holy Spirit on St. Elizabeth; We invoke Mary who was present at the foot of the cross when Christ died, to come and assist us at the moment of our own death. Our mother Mary told the world through the three visionaries that peace will reign if we pray the rosary daily. 

We in Nigeria are facing one of the greatest challenges since the civil war of 1967-1970. A war that took the lives of many Nigerians and created wounds and prejudices that we have not completely been healed of. The insecurity in our land, the sad news of frequent adoption of our priests and lay faithful through kidnapping; the destruction of our farms; the rapes our women suffer from the hands of some herdsmen; the sacrileges committed by those terrorists who attack and kill priests and lay faithful during sacred time of worship; the political instability and the seeming selective prosecution of people in the name of fighting corruption; the imbalance of appointments of people to sensitive offices; and the seeming lack of response from the Federal Government of Nigeria all constitute occasion to call on God through our Lady of Fatima to come to our rescue

On the 22 May 2018 I will be attending the burial of the two priests and others killed in the Church at Makurdi diocese. We the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria have mandated that all faithful simultaneously engage in peaceful demonstration to once again draw the attention of our political leaders to the grave danger we are facing in Nigeria. In the Archdiocese of Benin City, we shall be having the procession from St. Paul Catholic Church down to ring road and finally to the Cathedral where Mass for those who have died recently through religious hatred will be held. I call on all Catholics to take this civil and spiritual exercise seriously. The demonstration must be peaceful because you cannot achieve peace through violence. 

4.The Readings (First reading Acts 1:15-17; Second Reading 1 John 4:11-16; Gospel John 17:11-19): In the first reading we discover how the apostles chose the successor of Judas Iscariot. They set criteria for suitability for the office. The person must be one who has been with them from the Baptism of Jesus to the resurrection of Christ. The function of the apostle is to bear witness to the resurrection. Dearly beloved in Christ, this is our vocation too. To bear witness to the resurrection of Christ. We must constantly remind ourselves that this earth is not our permanent home. We are a people who believe in the resurrection of the death. Our choices must reflect this creed we profess every Sunday. 

We bear witness to the resurrection of Christ through the love we show to one another. St. John says in the second reading of today, that any person who loves abides in God and God in the person. This is the true proof that we are followers of Christ. What we do at home must be motivated by love; what we do in our places of work must be motivated by love, what we do in the Church must be motivated by love. When we truly love, it becomes easy to face challenges in life. We are suffering from severe deficit of love in Nigeria. It is because of lack of love that money meant for the society is embezzled by a few; it is because of lack of love that people kidnap others or rub them of their legitimately earned wealth. It is because of lack of love that some people destroy the reputation of others. The true manifestation of our faith is to be seen in how we love both our enemies and friends

Jesus in todays Gospel prayed for his followers to remain united. Jesus wants us to be united in our belief; united in our adherence to the communion with the Church and to be united in the work of evangelization. All of us are called to maintain full communion with the Church. One of the practical implication of living out this communion is through active participation in the life of the Church. There are some Catholics who only attend their parish events. They never feel obliged to attend Archdiocesan celebrations. We should never forget that we belong to one family and that what affects one affects all. We have been created to live peacefully together. Jesus prayed that we may be one. We must be one in our profession of faith; in our respect for constituted authority; in our celebration of the sacraments. Yes, we must be one in the way we worship God. We must be one in the condemnation of evil in our society. We must be one in our support for our Bishops and priests. We must be one in contributing to the support of the Church. We must be one in our love for God and love for one another. 

5.Conclusion: Once again I congratulate all journalists on this world communication day. Let us all become instruments of peace; instruments of spreading the truth and fighting lies and falsehood. I will like to end this homily using the words of St. Francis of Assisi as quoted by Pope Francis in his message for World Communications Day for 2018:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. 
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion. 
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements. 
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters. 
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world: 
where there is shouting, let us practise listening; 
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony; 
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity; 
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity; 
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety; 
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions; 
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust; 
where there is hostility, let us bring respect; 
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth. 
Amen.

                                                               

May God bless his words in our hearts through Christ our Lord. Amen.



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