“Human life is unimaginable without stories,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization.
Addressing an international conference for the IV centenary of the Congregation “De Propaganda Fide” last week, the cardinal stressed the importance of stories and storytelling in the Church’s mission.
“There are good stories and bad ones,” said Cardinal Tagle, “but the difference does not always depend on the style of the narrator or the ending of the story.”
He said people tell the best stories when these are about one’s experience, “when they are true.”
“Good history relies on stories of eyewitnesses,” he said, adding that “stories reveal who we are, the sense of our lives and where we are going.”
“I am what I am because I am immersed in other people’s stories and the stories of my time. If I neglect or deny them, I have no personal story to tell,” said Cardinal Tagle.
He said one’s personal identity is shaped by interaction with the world put into memory, adding that “remembrance is vital for self-knowledge.”
The cardinal said that by remembering one’s stories, people realize that the past is not static and that it actually continues to mold each one. “Through stories we see how much we have changed and how much more we need to change,” he said.
“Stories are the ground for understanding spiritual, doctrinal, and ethical symbols,” the cardinal was quoted as saying in a Vatican News report.
“Stories disclose the values, moral norms, and priorities of a person or community,” he said.
“Common experience and memories bind unique individuals into a cohesive body,” said Cardinal Tagle, explaining that “a community’s distinguishing beliefs, rituals, celebrations, customs, and lifestyle will make sense to us only if we go back to the stories that the members of that community hold and cherish in common.”
Cardinal Tagle reminded everyone that “when we experience something significant, we cannot wait to tell it to someone.” He said “this tells us that a story begs for a listener, for someone with whom to share.”
He said one’s story can awaken memories of similar experiences in a listener, “open new meanings, create wonder, and awaken from slumber.”
“Stories can be told in a variety of ways, even when not literally telling a story,” said Cardinal Tagle.
“Oral narration is still the most common, but stories can be told through writing letters, novels, or poems,” he said. Photos and videos, gestures, mannerisms, tone of voice, facial contortions, and body postures can also tell stories, he added.
The Filipino cardinal said even silence can be “a powerful way of telling a story.”
But stories can also be suppressed, he said.
“Even if telling stories comes spontaneously to us, some factors can suppress storytelling,” he said.
Pain brought about by a traumatic memory, shame, or guilt can prevent victims from telling their story or prompt them to deny that a story is part of their memory, he said.
“Dictators forbid stories of corruption, oppression, killings, and destruction from being told, they bribe media people and threaten those who want to expose the truth, they impose an official national history that erases memories that would put them in a bad light,” said the cardinal.
“Some stories are too dangerous to tell, but healing is possible,” he added.
He then asked those attending the conference if the history of Propaganda Fide “embolden us to enter the contemporary worlds of artificial and digital intelligence, extremism, polarization, religious indifference, forced migration, climatic disasters, to name a few?”
“How will the story of Jesus be told in these worlds? Who will tell the story of Jesus?” asked Cardinal Tagle.