The annual meeting of the press officers and spokespersons of the European Bishops’ Conferences was held in Cyprus from 24 to 26 May. This year’s theme was “The Church and the Challenge of Artificial Intelligence”. Alongside the main theme, there are two issues that are also deeply touching the life of the Church: the tenth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate, an anniversary that requires a retrospective to understand how communication has changed during this pontificate, and the synod on synodality that involves the entire Church and has seen a strong commitment of the local Churches in the continental stages that have involved the entire people of God.
During the days of the meeting, the press officers and spokespersons were also able to visit Northern Cyprus, pray at the tomb of the Apostle Barnabas, go as far as Famagusta and experience first-hand the difficult situation of the local Church.
The proceedings were opened by H. E. Msgr. Selim Sfeir, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, who in his greeting urged the participants to “seek to better understand what is called, for lack of another term, Artificial Intelligence, in order to think and integrate it according to the will of Jesus, who called us to announce the Good News unto the ends of the earth. It also means being guardians of humanity and its dignity”.
Father Bruno Varriano, Vicar in Cyprus of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, described the life of the Catholic Church in Cyprus, and in particular the complexity of the situation created by the partition of the island in 1974. Father Varriano also highlighted some positive developments in pastoral work in Northern Cyprus, where some Orthodox churches have also granted their spaces for the celebration of Catholic liturgies. He said that there was a very good ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which is the majority on the island.
Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communication, gave an address on “Ten years of Pope Francis: communicating to evangelise”. Tornielli explained that “one cannot understand Pope Francis, nor his communication, if one does not start from here, that is, from what continues to be the only reason for the Church’s existence, the one great task that concerns us as Christians: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and to foster an encounter with Him through our witness. A communicative task that involves us all as communicators and involves every one of the people of God”.
Speaking to the Catholic communicators, Tornielli emphasised that “analysis is not enough, repeating the content of the Pope’s magisterium is not enough, words are not enough, even if they are well packaged. Communication strategies are not enough: the Church is not a business, nor is it a political entity. To communicate we must find witnesses, we must tell stories, we must make known changed lives, lives of commitment, lives of struggle”.
Paolo Benanti, TOR, Professor of Ethics and Bioethics at the Pontifical Gregorian University gave an impassioned talk on how artificial intelligence has created a new language as well as the challenges posed to communication. “We will arrive in a world where it will no longer matter if we have actually seen an event, but rather how many times this event is described and found in search engines”, he explained.
The professor also showed how new technological applications, up to and including artificial intelligence, completely change the way we think, because they make the space in which we store information virtually infinite and, above all, make it less physical.
The control of new technologies, he added, is now a geopolitical issue, because the way these new artificial intelligence technologies are used can profoundly change the perception of facts.
Father Benanti, in this regard, highlighted a Microsoft study concerning the war in Ukraine, which showed how many Russian news sites started with a massive no-vax campaign, before changing, almost abruptly, to a strong pro-Russian campaign just before the aggression, thus shaping the public opinion of those who followed the site.
Sister Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, provided a series of updates on the synodal process, from which should soon come the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod on Synodality to be held at the Vatican in 2023 and 2024.
Reviewing the stages of the synodal process since 2021, Sr. Becquart noted that its purpose is not so much to write documents, but rather to continue asking questions, on the path to becoming a true synodal Church.
In particular, Sr. Becquart went into the details of the continental stages of the Synod, which were intended to initiate a movement of dialogue, emphasising that Synodality is a “learning pathway” and that in particular this synodal movement aims to “advance the implementation of the Second Vatican Council”.
Alessandro Di Maio, Press Officer of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) outlined the work of “observation” of the Commission, highlighting in particular some new features of the reform package concerning artificial intelligence.
At the end of the two days of meeting, H.E. Msgr. Nuno Brás da Silva Martins, Bishop of Funchal and Head of the CCEE Social Communication Section, gave an overview of the meeting. He highlighted the characteristics of Pope Francis’ communication, which is one “that knows how to listen, that allows itself to be wounded by reality, that witnesses the encounter with Jesus”. “Synodality is a way of living in the Church, as well as a call for the Church to be a sign of communion every day”.
On the subject of artificial intelligence, he recalled that we are faced with “information that creates reality”, and which “proposes to construct a reality for us according to our interests”.
Today, he added, “even geopolitics is based on a path of faith-truth, the creation of a truth made to our measure”.
“The development of artificial intelligence is happening right now, and therefore there is a difficulty in discerning. However, there is also a need to discern and accompany the paths to be sentinels of humanity and its dignity”.