Humanum , the interreligious and interfaith colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriag, though largely ignored by the media, is reaching audiences worldwide in slow-moving yet long-lasting waves through the Web. It took place in the Vatican from November 17-19, 2014.
Many blogs and websites have subsequently reproduced the declaration A New Affirmation on Marriage , a declaration of great poetical and communicative strength. Many other sites have posted links to the series’ trailer or some of the six 15-minute documentary segments found on the humanum.it site.
Coming from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries, a total of 350 people participated in the colloquium. Among the religions represented were Sunni and Shia Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, the Mormon confession, various Protestant denominations and, of course, Catholicism.
Pope Francis opened the colloquium with a powerful appeal to the participants to “propose with strength and inspiration this other truth about marriage. It is a permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love, which corresponds to the most profound desires of the human heart”.
The speakers from different religious traditions played the same music with distinct chords. London Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was responsible for the overture in this symphony with his fascinating insight into the history of marriage. He concluded with a brilliant image: “marriage brings new life into being, turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit”.
Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, the diocese organizing the next World Meeting of Families in September 2015, shared his impression of this colloquium: “I’ve attended many conferences in my life, but that one was the most interesting. It was a source of energy and enthusiasm. I’m really pleased”. And in the words of the famous Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, “more than defending marriage, we’ve got to celebrate it”.
The elements that generated media attention were many. A climate of opinion was already created by the debate surrounding the Synod on the Family (never before has a Synod experienced such attention and high expectations). The gathering of religious leaders from the most significant world religions in the Vatican, moreover in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, naturally drew attention. The Pope himself opened the debate and the topic of man/woman/marriage is an already hot issue. On this point, Pope Francis reminded the participants that children “have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development”.
In spite of the colloquium’s power, it was rather unnoticed by most media. But this was not the case with the Internet. Thanks to the Humanum website, which posted the documentaries filmed for the occasion, and the speeches recorded in the conference, many other sites were able to reproduce the content of the colloquium and write articles about it, thus making its echo resound in public opinion (at least in that part of public opinion willing to discuss real and beautiful issues, and not merely slogans).
My goal is not to examine the causes of journalistic disinterest. The fact that the Vatican missed the chance to communicate the event was, no doubt, one of the main reasons. Such a conference could have been celebrated before the Synod, as part of an audacious political communication strategy. Had it be happened, yes, the Colloquium might have stolen the media attention to the Synod. But, on the other hand, journalists could have drawn arguments and varied sources for the Synod to be covered. Then what? Given the climate of confusion formed during and after the Synod, was it not a prime occasion to attract media attention to the event? An opportunity lost, but not without hope. The talks of the colloquium are accessible, and there are still documentaries posted online with functioning links. I particularly recommend two of the six documentaries: “Understanding Man and Woman” (#3), and “Marriage, Culture, and Civil Society” (#6). The intervention of the Rabbi from London, Jonathan Sacks, “ The love that brings new life into the world " , is worthy to be read.