Havana, December 19th, 2016

To all the members and associates of SIGNIS

Dear Colleagues,

Christmas is here again, filling our hearts with God’s answer to our longing for peace. Recently, I received through social media several well-intentioned messages, complaining that we are celebrating Christmas when there is so much to feel sad about: violence, injustice, poverty are present everywhere and they show no sign of fading away. I understand those feelings, and I sympathize with the solidarity that such expressions try to elicit, but I am afraid that they are missing the point. As Pope Francis warned us last year, Christmas is not about lights and glitter and parties: it is about God becoming a part of our history. It is about the Emmanuel: God-with-us. How could we not celebrate?

Pope Francis has insisted that the recent closing of the Holy Year of Mercy does not in any way mean that Mercy ceases to be central for the Church. In fact it is Mercy that animates the most adequate kind of Christmas celebration, caring for our neighbour. In a world that finds little reason for hope, we in SIGNIS have pledged to promote stories of hope. It is difficult to think of a more appropriate way to celebrate Christmas.

When we look back on 2016, we see that we have much to be thankful for. During the year, SIGNIS members have displayed tremendous energy and creativity in a wide variety of programmes developed in our regions and member countries, most of which take place at the grassroots level, as it should. A lot has happened in education for communication and training, as the work being carried out with the Communications Lab and the most successful organization of several workshops on radio, a medium which for a long time did not receive the attention it deserves but is displaying a lot of activity these days. TV producers centered their attention on “Imaging the church in our productions”, while participation in media festivals and awards has been very active when we approach the 40th and 50th anniversaries of our presence in some festivals and media awards. We have been active in a number of socially beneficial initiatives, while our involvement in social media continues to grow quantitatively as well as qualitatively. All these are signs that the Association is very much alive and well.

There were also significant developments in the internal life of SIGNIS: our Board of Directors met in June in Québec City, at the University of Laval where we will be holding our World Congress from June 19th to 22nd next year. The Board was able to assess the facilities for board and lodging as well as for the different Congress sessions and meetings, and attention was paid to the myriad of organizational details involved. This Congress will be unusual in being held in the same week and in the same venue where the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada (CPA) will celebrate their main annual event, the Catholic Media Conference. Registrations for the SIGNIS Congress are now open.

The Executives have been active in reinforcing our contacts with the Secretariat for Communications of the Holy See, meeting twice in the year with the Prefect, Msgr. Dario Viganò, while the Head of the Pastoral and Theological Department of the Secretariat, Dr. Natasa Govekar, participated in our International TV Seminar in Taiwan. The Executives also met with the Prefect of the brand-new Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, Cardinal Kevin Farrell. This Dicastery has absorbed the former Pontifical Council for the Laity, and is therefore our canonical point of reference at the Holy See.

Our General Secretariat in Brussels is in the middle of a comprehensive process of administrative reorganization. The changes, although still a work in process, already show visible positive results and are expected to improve work efficiency substantially while allowing us to offer more and better services to our members.

SIGNIS Services Rome(SSR) held a most successful presentation of its services and possibilities to a number of Vatican officials and Vatican-based representatives of religious communities, particularly those with a strong missionary activity. The event was held at Palazzo San Calisto, where SSR has its offices.

During the year I had the privilege to participate in the SIGNIS Regional Assemblies of Asia, in Myanmar, in August, and of Latin America in Paraguay, in October. Both were excellent meetings, and great opportunities to experience firsthand the capacity of our members to coordinate their efforts in facing the multiple challenges presented to them throughout their regions.

That unique sense of wonder that we experience in the presence of the scene of the Nativity, with the King of the Universe being born among the poorest of the poor, is the true spirit and the joy of Christmas. Christ the Lord is the reason for our joy; His becoming one of us is the reason for our hope. It is Him that we celebrate and announce to the world, as we strive to build a Culture of Peace: “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on Earth, for God is blessing humankind” (Lk 2, 14)

It is with these feelings that, together with my Vice-Presidents Lawrence John Sinniah and Frank Frost, I wish you all a most holy and joyful Christmas and a very happy New Year 2017.

Gustavo Andújar

President of SIGNIS