For Pope Francis, the ability to listen is the first requirement for good communication, which is something he said should never exclude, but must provide an encounter rooted in mercy and welcome.
“We must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance,” the Pope has said, adding that to listen “is much more than simply hearing.”
Hearing, he said, is about “receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers.”
Francis noted that really listening to someone “is never easy,” and that many times “it is easier to play deaf.”
To listen requires “a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice,” because it means “paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says,” he continued.
“Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.”
Francis’ words were part of his message for the 50th World Day of Social Communications. Announced Sept. 29, 2015, the theme of the message is “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.”
World Communications Day takes place each year on the Sunday before Pentecost, and is the only worldwide celebration called for by the Second Vatican Council in the 1963 document “Inter Mirifica.”
This year the day will be celebrated May 8. The Pope traditionally releases a message for the day on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers, journalists and the Catholic press.
In his message, Pope Francis stressed that both what we say and how we say it “ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing.”
He said we are called to communicate with everyone “without exception,” adding that the Church has a special task, in her words and actions, of conveying mercy and touching people’s hearts.
Communication also has the power to build bridges between both individuals and groups, as well as foster an environment of inclusion in society, he said, explaining that this is possible in both the material and the digital world.
“Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”
Words spoken by Christians, even in the cases when “they must firmly condemn evil,” must always encourage communion, and “should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”
Francis also offered his thoughts the language used in political and diplomatic discourse, saying it would “do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.”
He urged those with institutional and political power, as well as those responsible for forming public opinion, to be always be attentive to the way they speak to others who think and act differently, and to those who have made mistakes.
“It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred,” the Pope said, explaining that courage is needed “to guide people towards processes of reconciliation.”
He also expressed his hope that the language of the Church’s pastors would never suggest an attitude of “prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded.”
“I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities,” Pope Francis said.
The Pope expressed his hope that modes of communicating would help overcome the rigid mindset that segregates sinners from the righteous.
While “we can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation,” we must never “judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts,” he said.
“It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen,” Francis observed, but stressed that only words “spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts.”
Turning to the digital world, Francis said that emails, text messages, social networks and chats can all be very human ways of communicating.
“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal,” he said, noting that digital communication is a meeting place where we can either encourage or demean each other.
He said that the internet “can help us to be better citizens,” and that access to digital networks is coupled by a responsibility for our neighbor, “whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected.”
Pope Francis closed his message by emphasizing that the encounter between communication and mercy will only be fruitful if it generates a sense of closeness that cares, comforts, accompanies and celebrates the other.
“In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”