With Singapore returning to Covid-19 Phase 2 restrictions, more attention than ever is being paid to the daily number of cases. These statistics can help predict whether restrictions will be increased or reduced. Indeed, statistics are also indicators used to evaluate how a nation has handled the pandemic. How many cases? How many deaths?

While statistics are important, overemphasis on numbers may lead us to think that, if the numbers are low, everything is fine. But every person is created in the image of God, as Catholic Social Teaching (CST) affirms. Every suffering person matters. Every life lost is a tragedy.

This is why the Holy Father’s 2021 Message for World Communications Day, which we mark today, is so apt. Pope Francis reflects on a Gospel passage where Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Christ. Nathanael was sceptical. Instead of trying to convince him, Philip simply said, “Come and see” (John 1:46).

From that starting point, the Pope invites all of us as communicators, whether we are reporters or not, to “hit the streets” and meet people where they are, as they are. The danger of communication with people we have not actually encountered is that we are vulnerable to communicating or receiving falsehood or fake news, especially through the social media. More importantly, we become mere spectators as we propagate stories about people we hear about but do not really know about.

The Church teaches that because God confers great dignity on every person, we have the right and the duty to participate in building our community, directly or indirectly through our elected representatives like our Members of Parliament.

The CST Principle of Participation states that, in line with our human dignity, each of us has a right and a responsiblity to have a say in what determines our future, whether as individuals, as communities or society as a whole, and to take action accordingly whether from the social, cultural, economic, political or faith perspectives.

Without the participation of its members, society cannot flourish.  If the vast majority of its residents had not taken Covid-19 restrictions seriously, Singapore’s statistics would have reflected a much worse scenario.

So we must not become mere spectators, we must participate. Even if we are not journalists, our communications matter and they are an important means of participation. We must give voice to real people, especially the forgotten ones. They are not just statistics making headlines.

While the Holy Father says we should “hit the streets”, this does not mean we should disregard the media. Rather, we should selectively consume those that attempt to encounter people on the ground before communicating their stories and sharing them to friends and loved ones.

Gifting subscriptions to Catholic News for them is one way of doing this. The upcoming CANA Film Festival is also a wonderful opportunity to view films with social themes and powerful stories where viewers can participate in discourse about social issues after each screening. Such media enriches our perspectives.

Nevertheless, we should not forget the importance of the personal encounter. There are wonderful stories waiting to be shared with the wider community, lying hidden in the lives of people who are waiting to be discovered by us.

Perhaps there is one in the neighbour we greet but never talk to, or in the colleague we work with but never listen to, or among our cleaning and security staff whose names we have not even tried to remember. And if we make time to volunteer in local community initiatives for those in need, perhaps we might encounter more surprising people and hear more beautiful stories we otherwise would never know of. Surely, Jesus the Christ can be found there, the same one Nathanael came and saw, and was transformed by, about long ago.

“The Principle of Participation states that each of us has a right and a responsibility to have a say in what determines our future.”

First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.