Fr Stefan Tuszynski, OFMConv
The billboards are only a constant reminder, turning passer-byes’ attention to certain issues of religious life, they are to make people’s hearts and conscience sensitive.
Once I heard a short story. After his death a known preacher went to paradise where he noticed that a taxi driver from his town occupied a better place than him. So he approached St Peter, grumbling, ‘I do not understand. That must have been some mistake. I dedicated my whole life to preaching.’ But St Peter replied, ‘We reward results. Do you remember the effects of your sermons?’ The preacher had to admit with reluctance that from time to time some of his believers had fallen asleep during his preaching. ‘That’s it’, St Peter answered, ‘But when people got into this man’s taxi they were not only moved but they also prayed intensively.’ This is a humorous story but to some extent it refers to the words of Lord Jesus when he sent his apostles to proclaim the Good News, ‘so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves’ (Matthew 10:16).
Proclaiming the Gospel is not a task for those who have been called but to every disciple of Christ. I think that we should do what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, ‘At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors’ (1:1), which means that we must constantly and in various ways proclaim the Gospel of our Master. One of the ways is ‘Visual Evangelisation’ that the Foundation of St Francis and the Franciscan Publishing House ‘Bratni Zew’ have conducted since 1994. When people talk to me about the billboards of Visual Evangelisation they often ask me whether I mean advertising or religious marketing. Marketing and advertising are commercial terms, related to trade. We are not dealing with that. We resort to modern means of social communication to reach people who are ‘children of images’, their lives are formed by mass media, including television and street posters. This form of social transmission is a way of communication between people. Thus one must choose effective forms of contact with contemporary people and use such a language that they can understand. The history of the Church shows that the method is not something new since it is placed in the process of enculturation. I want to mention one statement of St Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory) who permitted the cult of images and want to mention the so-called Biblia pauperum - these are examples from the history, testifying to the fact that faith does not only come from hearing. The task of Visual Evangelisation is to conduct a certain form of catechesis (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1159-1162), using modern language. We want to proclaim the Gospel not only to those who are believers but also to those who are outside the Church. Once should pay attention to some issues that bother contemporary man: problems of faith, ethics or social matters. A poster of Visual Evangelisation speaks to people in the way they can understand but it speaks in a constant way, too. The poster is hung for several weeks and people can see it many times, thanks to that it can make people sensitive to certain issues, for instance helping the poor, and one should remember that Christian almsgiving is connected with fast and prayer. Sometimes journalists ask me whether we aim at reviving religious life. Or perhaps more vocations? I think that the best way to renew religious life as well as good and holy vocations is testimonies of faith, examples of holy life, which the history of the Church teaches us in the best way - the martyrs! We all know very well our contemporaries who give various testimonies, and can marketing efforts change that? To what extent? For how long? Vocations occur when there are holy Christians, priests, monks. Various marketing actions are useful. Christian life means human efforts - with God’s grace - to be better, to be holy. So we deal with some supernatural reality, and marketing efforts are good for nothing. It is worth referring to St Paul (it witnesses to the fact that our ancient ancestors experienced similar problems): ‘After all, what is Apollos and what is Paul? They are servants who brought the faith to you. Even the different ways in which they brought it were assigned to them by the Lord. I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, but God made things grow’ (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). Since their beginning the Franciscans have had a recipe for holy life and vocations (St Francis left it in the Rule), ‘life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. Simple: one must live a life of the Gospel and then there will be vocations to the congregation and (generally) to holy Christian life. The billboards are only to constantly remind people of certain religious issues, to turn the attention of passer-byes, to make people’s hearts and conscience sensitive; they encourage making efforts to be better, and thus holy people; they encourage deepening faith and religious knowledge. And we do all these things using a simple language that contemporary people can understand.