Who can forget the day five years ago
when terrorists wreaked havoc in the
United States, toppling the majestic
World Trade Towers, crashing into the
Pentagon and failing an attempt to
strike further damage when stopped
by selfless heroes over Pennsylvania?
It is no less a national memory than
Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy and the explosion
of the space shuttle Challenger.
Hundreds perished and many more
have suffered the losses of 9/11. In the
years since, our nation has undergone
a most unpleasant wake-up call: The
days of American isolationism are long
We’ve scrambled to secure our country
in ways unimaginable 10 years ago.
Because of terrorists, we’ve gone to war
halfway around the world, certainly in
Afghanistan, and, depending on whom
you consult about reasons, again in
Why now? What’s different about
the world today? In a word: communication.
The advent of Internet and
satellite communications has changed
us from dreaming of a global village
to actually living in one.
Ask anyone who travels internationally,
or anyone who enjoys media
from around the world. One can listen
to radio stations from a distant hometown
via Internet or watch TV stations,
via cable and satellite, from across the
Cell phones unite families who, 20
or 30 years ago, would have fallen out
of contact. Genealogy searches on the
Internet are a booming business as
many Americans look back across the
oceans to find their ancestry.
Transnational corporations are just
that: transnational, and in ways more
efficient than ever. Business telephone
conference calls or Internet conferences
between India, China, Europe, South
America, North America—practically
More than at any other time in history,
what happens in one part of the
world affects what happens in another.
And everybody knows about it right
We now have enormous enterprises
devoted to tracking terrorist activities
worldwide on our computer and telephone
The “Dark Web,” at the University of
Arizona, is one example. There, a room
full of computers and the people who
operate them track the Internet communications
of about 1,500 terrorist
and extremist organizations. Much of
the attention is devoted to networks of
disgruntled militant Muslims like
Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
Anyone who knows even the basics
of Islam realizes that these militants
are a tiny and unpopular minority.
Islam is not a violent, hateful faith, as
St. Francis himself learned when he
visited with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in
1219. But the militants are potent, and
they use modern communications to
their great advantage.
Internet and cell-phone communications,
as a matter of fact, make the
whole international terrorist network
The Dawn of Communications
The late Pope John Paul II understood,
in the greatest sense, what was happening,
well before 9/11. He named
for the Catholic Church, indeed for
the entire world, in his 1991 encyclical
Mission of the Redeemer, modern communications
as the Aereopagus of
He was referring to that hill in
ancient Athens where the philosophers
of the day would share their ideas with
any who would listen. It was there St.
Paul preached the gospel: There, like
the means of modern communication, “all the Athenians as well as the foreigners
residing there used their time
for nothing else but telling or hearing
something new” (see Acts 17:21-34).
In this new era of instant communication,
the rules have changed. The
very same technology that al Qaeda
uses to empower terrorists to do evil
must be used by us Christians to spread
a gospel of peace and love, of awareness
What Message Will We Share?
So much of the world is sharing ideas
in an entirely new way! And in some
ways, as Marshall McLuhan said in the
1960s, the medium is the message.
McLuhan, a devoted Catholic, was
not speaking of our deepest truth.
That’s a common misunderstanding.
He was telling us, that, at the level of
human interaction, the way that we
communicate with each other (the
“medium,” and especially the communications
media) speaks volumes
about who we are and what we stand
for (the “message”). Over the years
we’ve discovered that those media also
affect the way we think, as media-savvy
parents know well!
At the dawn of our new era of communications,
we are left with the oldest
of human choices. Will we use our
media to bring people together or to
tear them apart?
More to the point, will we Catholics
look seriously to embracing new ways
of being present to each other, across
new distances, to help spread the Good
News of Jesus? Will we have Junipero
Serras and Francis Xaviers in cyberspace?
Or will we merely sit back and
worry about the ills that are coming as
we rub shoulders more and more with
the rest of humanity?
Five years have passed since the horrors
of 9/11. We live, in many ways, in
a different world. But it’s the same
world that Christ came to redeem. How
can we use the tools of communication
to be faithful to his call?—J.F.