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Communicators must recognize value, importance of words, author says


Michael W. Higgins, professor of Catholic thought at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., addresses attendees of the 2017 Catholic Media Conference in Quebec City during a June 23 Catholic Press Association plenary session. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

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QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- During the June 21-23 Catholic Media Conference in Quebec City, participants who received tips throughout the four days on writing, marketing, taking photos and engaging in social media were also urged to go back to the basics and understand something simple: the importance of words.

Words are not there to be manipulated but to provide an opportunity of grace, said Michael Higgins, a Canadian author and distinguished professor of Catholic thought at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

The author and academic pointed out that people today are constantly barraged by a "tsunami of language" from the moment they get up and look at their phones or television screens with news tickers scrolling constant updates.

And because people are so inundated by words all the time, words that mean the most to them are those that are most authentic, he told Catholic communicators in a keynote address June 23.

"We need to renew the word, cleanse it and redeem it," he told the group, pointing out that the Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton, a poet, was fully aware of this in his knowledge and respect for language and his realization that it could be used to "shake us out of complacency."

Father Merton, held up as the ideal model for communicators today, "treasured the word," said Higgins. "He didn't massage it; he chose the right word because he knew that by doing so he reverenced it."

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