KATHMANDU, Nepal: More than 50 Catholic Media Practitioners from 19 countries met here from 15 – 22 October for the Signis Asia Assembly (SAA) 2011. The theme of the gathering was Media for a Culture of Peace: Creating Images with the New Generation, focusing on the New Media and how to utilize it to spread the message of peace in a manner which can be embraced by an increasingly technologically-savvy world.
Hailing the gathering as “historic” in his welcome address, former Caritas Asia Coordinator Josh Niraula said that the new generation in Nepal was “waiting for things to happen.” Despite the 20 TV networks that operate in the country of 29 million, he remarked that the Catholic Church was lagging behind in terms of effective utilization of the media. “Other Christian denominations are way ahead of us,” he said. “But by hosting the SAA, Catholics in Nepal have started on the path to Media and Communications Education.”
Assembly host country Nepal’s application for membership in Signis Asia was unanimously supported by members at the SAA, thus making Nepal the latest member of Signis.
Chirendra Satyal, who has been leading news reporting and networking efforts for the small Catholic Church of Nepal for over a decade, noted that the SAA was held at the “correct time”.
“Recently regarded as a Hindu kingdom, Nepal is now stable after more than a decade of dramatic and violent political change. This newly-secular nation is encouraging various new and creative media ventures from several quarters,” said Satyal.
President of Signis Asia, Lawrence John, urged participants to rise to the challenge of the theme, saying, “To enable ourselves to achieve authentic unity and genuine development, which is the real challenge of the theme, we have to include gospel values in our work. Communication between Church and Community needs to be enhanced.” John is also the director of Cahayasuara Centre, the social communications office of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In a message read to the Assembly, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, encouraged participants to reflect on the Holy Father’s message for World Communication Day (WCD) 2011.
Quoting from the WCD message, Archbishop Celli said that the uniquely human spiritual yearning for transcendence and longing for authentic forms of life “inspires our quest for truth and for communion, and impels us to communicate with integrity and honesty”.
In his keynote address, President of Signis World Augustine Loorthusamy said the organization was concerned about inter-cultural and inter-faith relationships and engagement with the secular world. “SIGNIS concentrates on media education for the public. Signis is also present at more than 30 film festivals around the world, through which it practices its particular brand of advocacy. Peace is at the centre of what Signis does,” explained Loorthusamy.
Adding that Signis uses cinema and culture to dialogue with other faiths, he said that the organization was officially recognized by the Vatican, and while it works within the Church, it engages with those in the market place as well, which meant that it engages with everybody. “Signis members work under very difficult conditions,” he said. “They sometimes face harassment by the authorities, religious fanatics, and corrupt government officials. They are underpaid and overworked.” But their engagement at various levels in different countries reflects the signs of the times, such as the developments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and Syria.
“Together with Peace, People are at the centre of what Signis does,” he concluded. “We have chosen to use the different media as a means to dialogue with others as it brings us closer to other groups. To this end, Signis is already giving film awards, and we would like to see more people win these awards in the future – especially in Asia. Signis Awards have been successful in Thailand, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, and they will be starting in Malaysia soon.” – by SIGNIS Asia/Malaysia.