Faith and hope in Quebec City

Philip Lee, WACC Deputy General Secretary, is attending the SIGNIS Congress in Quebec City, 19-22 June 2017.

There are great expectations at the SIGNIS Congress, where film director Martin Scorsese will be giving a Q&A following a screening of his most recent film Silence. Later in the programme, participants will witness a public tribute to Scorsese’s lifetime’s dedication to cinema.

Set in 17th century Japan, Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests as they attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy. The film is based on the book of the same name by Japanese author Shusaku Endo who wrote from the perspective of Japanese Roman Catholic. It has been 25 years in the making. Critical reaction has been mixed, some finding the film beautiful to watch and morally uplifting, others meandering and overlong.

The theme of the SIGNIS Congress 2017 is “Media for a Culture of Peace: Promoting Stories of Hope”. It underlines a trajectory the World Catholic Association for Communication has taken over many decades. In fact Congress feels more like a homecoming than a conference, as many of those present seem to share the same concerns as WACC members and partners around the world.

To the strains of a recording of Mozart’s Requiem, the Congress began with a photo tribute to communicators who have passed on since the last gathering in 2013. It was a stark reminder of transience. By way of contrast, there is a certain emphasis in the programme on the work of the most recent generation of young communicators.

Among what might be termed the SIGNIS “old guard” are Dr Jim McDonnell, a director of WACC UK and a consultant in the preparation of its Strategic Plan 2017-2021, Fr Peter Malone, former SIGNIS President and quondam contributor to WACC’s journal Media Development, and Augy Loorthusamy, a former WACC director.

Congress is both an exercise in networking and in sharing information about the latest developments and techniques. It is very much a meeting of communication practitioners “with a conscience”. One of many examples is “Finding God In All Things and Shooting it in 4K”, a presentation about digital storytelling by Fr Eddie Sibert of Loyola Productions.

“There is nothing richer than our imaginations,” he said. “We need to tell stories to impact and inspire others to act.” The theme echoes WACC’s own belief in enabling and encouraging people to tell stories, especially those who are excluded and marginalised.

There are many stories are “out there” waiting to be told: stories of love and hope, but also stories of suffering and despair. Which ones to choose and how to present them is the art of communication. But there are still difficult questions: whose reality and whose truth?

SIGNIS members are inherently optimistic, which is just as it should be in a faith context. But as a consequence, at an event like this, it’s easy to set aside – at least temporarily – the bleakness and darkness in a world that is often no friend to justice.

Next year SIGNIS is celebrating 90 years. It was created in November 2001 from the merger of Unda (International Catholic Association for Radio and Television) and OCIC (International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisuals), both founded in 1928.

The spirit of hope permeating this Congress presages a renewal of purpose in the light of the challenges facing a world that is rapidly changing politically, economically, and technologically. WACC and SIGNIS will have a lot in common as they move forward together.

Gustavo Andújar, outgoing SIGNIS President, addressing the plenary. Photo: Philip Lee

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