, 25 May, 2020 / 6:08 AM
On the occasion of the 54th World Communications Day (WCD), Church leaders and representatives of Catholic communication entities in Africa have, in separate messages, encouraged the telling of stories of hope amid the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.
Their respective messages make reference to Pope Francis who dedicated the day to the theme of telling stories that look forward to the future with hope. The Holy Father published his message for the May 24 event on January 24 under the theme, “That you may tell your children and grandchildren” (Exodus 10:2): Life becomes history.
The President of SIGNIS Nigeria, Fr Patrick Alumuku encouraged communicators in his country to tell stories of hope with “more vigour and enthusiasm, despite the limitations of our physical interactions occasioned by COVID-19.”
The Nigerian Cleric made reference to Pope Francis’ message for this year’s celebration saying, “In the midst of our daily challenges, particularly during this period of global upheaval, the Holy Father reminds us as communicators not to be deterred, but to continue to spread the story of the Good News to all men and women of all races; the story of God’s saving grace for the benefit of all, particularly our children and grandchildren so that they may be well rooted and better informed of the way to true happiness as they chart the course of their lives.”
In his message shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Patrick invites communicators in his country to “continue to pray for a quick end to this COVID 19 pandemic so that we can resume fully our daily chores.”
“We also pray that the Good Lord will strengthen us and imbue within us the much needed vigour to always be willing vessels of His Spirit,” the Abuja-based Cleric who oversees the Catholic Television of Nigeria (CTV) implored.
In Kenya, the Chairman of the Commission for Social Communication of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Bishop Joseph Obanyi encouraged journalists to employ the means of communication to tell stories “that announce that God is in charge.”
“In the midst of despair and many challenges, in the midst of the noise as in many stories, false stories and discouraging stories, it is important that we recover the word of God as the greatest story,” Bishop Obanyi said in a video message dated May 23 that was shared on various social media.
Referencing the Holy Father’s call to pass on messages from the holy scriptures, Bishop Obanyi who is the Local Ordinary of Kakamega diocese said, “Each of us knows different stories that have the fragrance of the Gospel, that have borne witness to the Love that transforms life. These stories cry out to be shared, recounted and brought to life in every age, in every language, in every medium.”
“As we celebrate this day, we also remember that communication has brought us information that we would never have known before; the means of communications that God has provided for us in this time is about how we can communicate as human beings, because, again, the human being is a being that communicates,” the Kenyan Prelate said.
“Even when we are separated, observing social distancing, and not going to work, the means of communications bring us together and we would like to harness them, utilize them to tell the story,” he noted and encouraged that communicators engage the various means available to “tell a good story; the good story of God who has saved us from sin; the good story of God who is still in charge even in situations that are very difficult.”
Still in Kenya, Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret diocese called on journalists to provide to audiences “information based on truth which is objective, accurate and fair.”
Speaking during the televised Mass at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi on Sunday, May 24, Bishop Kimengich advocated for constructive journalism saying, “With fake news becoming ever more sophisticated, all of us need the wisdom, courage and patience to discern and embrace constructive stories.”
On his part, Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri Archdiocese called on those engaging the communication channels to do so in ways that bring hope to people of God amid COVID-19 restrictions.
“We want to thank you because you have sensitized us and you are helping us to sensitize in terms of the gravity of this illness of COVID-19 and we would ask you to be positive in your messages and give hope,” Archbishop Muheria in his video message shared on social media.
He continued, “It is true the facts before us are rather alarming and sometimes even worrisome; but I do believe an optimistic and positive hope, given in messaging, will help all of us to weather this storm, to face the difficulties that are coming to us. So, we thank you for the message and we also thank you, because you keep telling us and informing us even about the positive things, even some good, wonderful stories.”
Meanwhile, the Bishop of Nigeria’s Abeokuta Diocese, Peter Odetoyinbo urged media practitioners to focus more on stories that promote harmony, unity and peace during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The Nigerian Prelate who made the call in his message to commemorate the 54th World Communications Day cautioned media practitioners against all forms of bigotry, discrimination and exploitation with the use of the media.
He appreciated media practitioners for their tireless efforts in ensuring that “people are well informed and carried along in the fight against COVID-19.”
He recognized efforts of those who are facilitating the telling of human interest stories saying they “have sacrificed a lot by portraying the good sides of the experience in the care and concern of the government, families, sacrifices of doctors, nurses, security agents as well as the prayers offered by priests and religious leaders to end the pandemic.”
“The time has been a challenging one with the COVID-19 pandemic; we hear and experience different versions of the story daily, from conspiracy theories to statistics of deaths and new cases, the fall of vibrant economies to rising unemployment, the poverty in the land, and the responses of the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, the Nigerian government and political leaders, all of these stories create suspicion, panic, anxiety,” Bishop Peter Odetoyinbo said.
He continued, “But then the story is not all negative and tainted; we also hear stories of efforts of government, groups and individuals towards helping others through the distribution of palliatives; these are good stories that please God and bind humanity.”
Still in Nigeria, the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins called on media practitioners to tell original stories that bring out the truth.
“To tell our own stories, we must possess divine wisdom, have courage, patience, and discernment to counter falsehood; what the Holy Father called “deep fake” news of our time. But we must tell our stories again and again,” Archbishop Adewale told journalists May 23 at the Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos.
World Communications Day takes place each year on the Sunday before Pentecost.
In his message Sunday, May 24 at the Vatican’s Regina Coeli, Pope Francis prayed that the event of the World Communications Day “encourage us to tell and share constructive stories that help us to understand that we are all part of a story that is larger than ourselves, and can look forward to the future with hope if we truly care for one another as brothers and sisters.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa