One of the most underrated documents produced by the Second Vatican Council is by far Intermirifica, the decree on social communication media, signed into law by Pope Saint Paul VI on December 4, 1963. The document begins by stating that media communications are not inherently evil – they can be used for good or evil. He cites some of these means, including radio, films and the press. Today we might add things like podcasts and social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Continuing, he points out that the Church has been given the task of preaching the Gospel to all. The third section specifies:
The Catholic Church, since she was founded by Christ our Lord to bring salvation to all men and is therefore obliged to preach the Gospel, considers it her duty to announce the Good News of salvation also through the means of social communication. and to instruct men in their proper use.
It is therefore an inherent right of the Church to have at her disposal and to use any of these means insofar as they are necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians and for all her efforts for the welfare of souls. It is the duty of pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they can, with the help of these same media, promote their salvation and their perfection and those of the whole human family. Furthermore, the laity in particular must strive to infuse a human and Christian spirit into these media, so that they fully live up to the great expectations of humanity and God’s plan.
Before ascending to heaven, Christ commanded his apostles “to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Of course, social media can reach thousands of people very easily and is therefore a valuable resource in the Church’s mission of evangelization and catechesis.
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There is a man in the Church who was way ahead of Intermirifica in Using the Media as a Means of Preaching the Gospel: Fulton J. Sheen. Sheen began his media career as the host of the catholic hour radio program, produced by the National Council of Catholic Men and broadcast on NBC. He held this position for twenty years, from 1930 to 1950. Sheen often dealt with moral issues that arose in the world and offered advice and comforting words to the many people who tuned in to listen to him. His preaching was particularly relevant during World War II.
On July 8, 1941, a documentary entitled “Vatican historyappeared, which was written and narrated by Sheen. Sheen offered a captivating history of Rome, the Vatican, and a brief life of Pope Pius XII. RKO Radio Pictures produced it. The studio was famous for producing King Kong in 1933 and Orson Welles Citizen Kane in 1941. Later, the studio would continue to produce It’s a wonderful life (1946).
In 1951 Sheen started a new program, his famous television show Life is worth living, which ran from 1951 to 1957. Sheen’s show was watched by thousands of Americans. And, surprisingly, Sheen’s main audience was not the Catholic population! Its main audience was first Jews, then Protestants and Catholics. (I’ve had many parents, Catholic and Protestant, tell me how they used to look at Bishop Sheen back then.)
With his television performance, Sheen won an Emmy, beating the hugely popular comedian Milton Berle. When asked about it, Berle said Sheen had better writers than him and that’s why he won. When Sheen took the stage to receive his award, he joked, “I would like to thank my writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
Presentation of the Word on the Fire Liturgy of the Hours
Even shine made an appearance on the show What is my line? (1950-1967). The show consisted of a panel of people who were blindfolded and had to ask a series of questions in order to determine who was the guest on the show. For each question answered in the negative, the guest would earn more money. Due to Sheen’s popularity, he replied in French to hide his voice. At the end of the show, the host, John Daly, asked Sheen where he would like the money he won sent. Sheen replied that he would like everything to go to leper colonies in Australia. Her appearance on the show not only shows Sheen’s love for missions, but also brought missions to the public’s attention.
Besides his video and radio media, Sheen has also written two weekly newspaper columns, served as editor of two missionary magazines, and authored over sixty books and pamphlets. The last TV show Sheen did was The Fulton Sheen Programwhich ran from 1961 to 1968 and was in the same vein as its previous show.
We know that Fulton Sheen attended the Second Vatican Council and that the majority of his work was with mission papers. One can’t help but marvel at the joy Sheen expressed when Intermirifica has been enacted. He was years ahead of the document and is the embodiment of what he was calling for. At a time when social communication is at its peak, Fulton Sheen serves as an example to all who use social media to preach the gospel, to preach Christ.