Pope: Speak truth with love, denounce evil without alienating sinners

Pope Francis greets people during an audience for pilgrimage workers in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Use the power of communication to build bridges and heal wounds, not generate hatred or misunderstanding, Pope Francis said. The Catholic Church, too, must proclaim the truth and denounce injustice without alienating everyone in need of God's help, he said in his message for World Communications Day.

"We can and we must judge situations of sin—such as violence, corruption and exploitation—but we may not 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."

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To coincide with the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis dedicated this year's message to the theme, "Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter." The message, released Jan. 22, was dated Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists. Most dioceses will mark World Communications Day May 8, the Sunday before Pentecost.

In his message, the pope said that what people say, how they say it and what actions they take must all "express God's compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all." Only by giving witness to and preaching with Jesus' warmth and mercy can the words of faith come alive to touch people's hearts and sustain them on the journey toward fullness of life, he said.

And since everyone is a child of God, no one must exclude another—"without exception"—from dialogue, he said.

The church and her ministers need to communicate in a way that never implies "a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded."

"May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous," he said, since mercy is what helps alleviate "life's troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment."

Truth is to be upheld with love, he said, and "only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness."

Those who feel a world rooted in mercy would be "hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent" should think about the beauty of love between parents and their children in which love is never dependent on meeting certain conditions.

"I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome."

"How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony," he said.

Pope Francis said merciful communication applies also to all digital platforms and social networks, which are public meeting places "where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks."

"The Internet can help us to be better citizens" and can build a world that is "healthy and open to sharing."

Words and actions should "help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication," he said.

The pope made special mention of people engaged in politics and those who help form public opinion, saying they must be especially careful about "the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes."

"It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred," he said.

Courage and creativity are needed to guide people toward reconciliation and to offer "real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace."

Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, told reporters that the pope's message again underlines the importance of the church living Gospel truths in words and deeds as a key part of the way it communicates.

"The church we are called to be can only live according to Jesus' words, which proclaim a mercy that surpasses every law, and can only mirror Jesus' approach by taking on his feelings, attitude and conduct" so that the church can reveal "the merciful face of God in Christ," he said in his written address.

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