The Pope at the G7, because “technology is spirituality”. Spadaro from Messina: “The real challenge? Staying human”


By John

The ancient and profound meaning of spirituality, between new sensitivities and the challenges – as exciting as they are disturbing – of a technology that arises from the human intellect but then seems to self-reproduce, in a digital “non-life” capable of having a heavy impact on people, in the flesh, bones and soul. Let’s talk about a perspective that holds us between hopes and alarms Father Antonio Spadaro, Jesuit from Messinaundersecretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education of the Holy See, on the eve of his return to Sicily.

His is an all-round interest in the expression of thought between journalism, literature, music, cinema and entertainment. The Dicastery for Culture and Education, for example, has just organized the Holy Father’s meeting with humor artists: why, and what impact has it left?

Irony and comedy are effective channels of communication at all levels, including the political one. It is not “entertainment”, but artistic expression and intellectual expression. The humorous gaze changes our horizon with a sudden, unusual, unexpected disorientation: it prevents us from reducing reality to the idea we have of it. And so he is capable of denouncing excesses of power, giving voice to forgotten situations, highlighting abuses, reporting inappropriate behavior… In short, through the talent of laughter today unique reflections on the human condition and the historical situation are offered. And they are delivered to us in an accessible and popular way, often even with a corrosive and pointed style. At a time when the world order is upset, sometimes only a joke can turn the conversation around and make us think. It is no coincidence that humor and comedy are things banned and outlawed in dictatorships because they are perceived as a threat. And then the joke has something in common with dreams. We need a more serene and calmer culture, we desperately need it. The meeting with Francesco generated enthusiasm, and he clearly recognized the importance of this art in the cultural and political context of today.

The World Day celebrated by Pope Francis with girls and boys from all over the world has strongly brought us back to the theme of educational responsibility, one of the cornerstones of Ignatian pedagogy: as a Jesuit and undersecretary of the relevant Vatican Dicastery, what does he think is the most serious at the moment emergency in this field, and what are the tools to deal with it?

I would say that the Day not only confronted us with our educational responsibility, but reminded us that children bring many riches to humanity. First of all, they bring their way of seeing reality, with a confident gaze that is not yet polluted by malice, by duplicity, by the “encrustations” of life that harden the heart, despite their selfishness, which they also have. But children are certainly not diplomats: they say what they feel, they say what they see, directly. And many times they put parents in difficulty. Children have not yet learned the science of duplicity that we adults have unfortunately learned. And they ask direct, strong, difficult questions. I would say that we must be educated by children to regain a glimpse of reality that we have lost. Francis, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, dedicated a lot of time to meeting educators, but also to meeting children with whom he always gave homilies in conversation, for example, involving them directly. What is the educational emergency? Look, for me it’s the lack of confidence in the future. Which world are we handing over to the new generations? Do we pass the baton or do we hold on to it until the torch goes out? Do we communicate trust and hope? I fear that the educational emergency is the lack of a future.

Gender issues are today at the center of a new sensitivity, which, beyond any ideological conflict, calls for respect for people and differences. A necessary sensitivity, against violence and discrimination, which makes even unconventional models increasingly “acceptable”: how do you think the contemporary Church should approach this different sensitivity?

The Pope insists on a welcome of “todos, todos, todos”: it is almost a mantra. His perspective is strongly pastoral. There is no doubt about this. Francesco always puts the person with his experience and his story at the center. He does not ask questions before welcoming. I think there’s something really important here. In a time in which judgment and taking sides come before thought and knowledge, his natural attitude is an invitation to meet. And there is no respect if there is no real encounter. The Church walks with history and therefore understands its mission and the human being on the move, step by step. The human being himself understands himself gradually. Here, I believe that the basic attitudes with which the contemporary Church must adopt are three. The first is the blessing, as is clear from the document Fiducia supplicans, which does not deny the blessing to anyone. The second is understanding, the result of listening to people’s lives and not theories. The third is the accompaniment of people so that faith and its needs become part of their concrete existence and not a sack of potatoes to put on their shoulders.

The G7 under the Italian presidency in Puglia has just recorded the first speech by a pontiff in the history of the meetings of the seven “big ones”, calling on the governments of the world to put the person first. Starting from a present in which it is extremely difficult to make predictions about something that slips away as soon as you think you have grasped it, what is your vision of humanism in the time of artificial intelligence?

Why does a spiritual leader address an “artificial”, technological topic? From what Francis said in his speech at the G7 meeting, it is clear that he understood how technology today has an increasingly greater impact on the spirituality of human beings, on their way of living and deciding on their destiny. And he decisively pronounced words that were unheard of for a Pontiff, namely: «talking about technology is talking about what it means to be human». This is a very important statement. We can no longer talk about humanism and spirituality regardless of technology, therefore. This is why Francis started his reasoning not from calculations, but from something spiritual such as “emotions”, those that emerge in the face of technological progress: on the one hand there is enthusiasm and on the other fear. There is something fascinating and awesome about new technology. And it is these emotions that push us to understand better. In a time like ours of epochal transformations, the real question is not whether artificial intelligence can become human, but whether human intelligence can “remain” human. And therefore asking the technological question is asking a naturally spiritual question. The heart of Francis’ reflection was the ability to “decide”. Choices made on the basis of algorithms, data accumulated over time, and the calculation of probabilities, as artificial intelligence does, risk reinforcing prejudices. Above all, they risk not considering human possibilities, surprise, change. On the other hand, we must demystify the anguish that grips us: over time, humanity has experienced incredible revolutions that now seem obvious things to us such as electric light or the telephone which have changed our existence radically. The challenge for me remains the question: what allows us to remain human? And this, ultimately, is the real question that Francis wanted to ask before the powerful of the earth.

Tomorrow you will be in Messina to receive the prestigious Weber award from the Rotary Club. What is the connection with your city of origin and what was the cultural imprint on your education? And which memory are you most fond of?

I left Messina at the age of 22 to join the Jesuits. I experienced years of curious and lively education, thanks to my middle schools at the Ignatianum, which were a hotbed of creativity, then to the meeting with the Salesians of San Luigi and Domenico Savio, where I met lifelong friends and I have matured into what I am today. The university experience in the Faculty of Philosophy was decisive, above all thanks to the figure of the philosopher Filippo Bartolone, a true master. But I have always had a look that attracted me “elsewhere”. In Messina, looking at the Strait I learned about the beyond. I don’t love the infinite sea, but the one that shows a further shore. Having left Messina I have been to many places in Italy and around the world. A unique experience is to follow the Pope on his international travels, for example. I traveled around the world with him. But the gaze has remained the one that from the hills of Sperone admires the sea and the hills beyond.

Next Sunday in Taormina, during the Taobuk festival, he will present his latest book, “Dialogues on faith”, born from a particularly intense conversation with the director Martin Scorsese on the link between art and spirituality: starting from this framework, and in the light of your experience as a communicator, a man of culture and a profound knowledge of contemporaneity, how would you speak today about faith and spirituality to an audience of young and very young people?

My relationship with Martin Scorsese was born eight years ago, and the central topic of our first conversation was not his cinema, but Sicily. His roots are in Polizzi Generosa and Cimina, even though he was born in New York. Then our conversations broadened and deepened, but naturally, at lunch and dinner. Sometimes there were very long meals where the conversation about cinema was intertwined with that of life. Indeed, I can say that we talked about his life, of which cinema is an integral, but not only, part. And so the themes of faith and grace emerged naturally, linked to his concrete and often very complicated experiences, and also marked by sensational errors that he never hides. Here, this is how I would talk about faith and spirituality, even to young people: as part of life, indeed as an expression of a desire for life and trust that fuels our experiences by interpreting them, giving them meaning.

The look beyond the Strait, between philosophy and cybertheology

Father Antonio Spadaro, Jesuit, journalist, was born in 1966 in Messina, at whose university he obtained a degree in Philosophy, with a thesis on the “Spiritual Exercises” of Ignatius of Loyola. He taught literature at the high schools of the “Massimo” Institute in Rome and at the Pontifical Gregorian University. From 2011 to 2023 he directed «La Civiltà Cattolica», under his impetus the ancient Jesuit magazine launched 8 editions in addition to the Italian one and activated a strong digital presence and extensive collaboration of Jesuit writers from all over of the world. He was appointed by the Pontiff as Consultor of the then Pontifical Council for Social Communications (2011-16) and of the Pontifical Council for Culture (2011-22) and since last January he has been undersecretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. He is a member of the Peloritana Academy of Pericolanti and Ordinary of the Pontifical Academy of Virtuosi al Pantheon. He collaborates with numerous newspapers and has published almost forty volumes dedicated to literature, art, digital culture and cybertheology, international politics and the life of the Church. Four works are dedicated to Francis’ pontificate, including the first interview “My door is always open”.

Tomorrow the Weber prize in the Gazzetta del Sud auditorium

Tomorrow Saturday 22 June in Messina at 10.30 in the auditorium of the Gazzetta del Sud Father Spadaro will receive the prestigious “Federico Weber” award awarded to him by the Messina Rotary Club. After the introduction of the president eng. Gaetano Cacciola, the notary Michele Giuffrida will recall the history of the award, while the past president Arcangelo Cordopatri will present the profile of the illustrious guest. At the end of the meeting, a visit will be held to the corporate center of Società Editrice Sud, with the editorial offices and the press center.

Sunday 23 “Dialogues on faith” in Taobuk

Participation in Taobuk on Sunday, with an intense day in the location of the San Domenico hotel, as part of the 14th edition of the festival: Spadaro will participate at 11am in the panel on identity and cultural enterprise, introduced by the speech of Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano. At 3 pm the book “Dialogues on faith”, created inspired by conversations with the director Martin Scorsese, will be on display