January 6th, 2007

Pope Denounces 'False Illusions' of Advertisers

By Malcolm Moore
The Telegraph (UK)

The Pope has denounced the commercialisation of Christmas by advertisers in his first public comments of the year.

Speaking at a soup kitchen in Rome, Pope Benedict blamed the advertising industry for creating images of false joy over Christmas, instead of concentrating on God’s message.

He said the real happiness of the festive period was “certainly very different from the illusions spun out in advertisements”.

Italians, who celebrate Epiphany today, have been bombarded over Christmas with television advertisements of smiling families celebrating together, and children tucking into branded sweets and cakes. Large images of Father Christmas swigging fizzy cola have been prominent on street hoardings.

The idea that most families regard the festive period mainly as a time for present-giving and over-eating has irked the Pope, who told an audience of social workers and homeless people that it was “love and charity” that gave true joy at Christmas.

“The message of Christmas is simple: God has come among us because he loves us,” he said, adding that the people working at the Caritas soup kitchen could feel the “beauty of this love, and the depth of the joy which it brings”.

Conservative members of the Vatican have been worried about the effect of advertising on the public for several years. Three years ago, Pope John Paul II spoke at a conference on the subject organised by Opus Dei. “It is necessary to recognise the limits and the insidiousness of languages [used by the media]. Advertisements offer a superficial and inadequate vision of life, of the family and morality,” he said.

Italian advertisers have been upset by the new Pope’s attack. Emanuele Pirella, the co-founder of Lowe Lintas Pirella Göttsche, an advertising agency, told La Repubblica: “The sort of sugary adverts where everyone is happy, where we wake up in the morning and everyone is smiling have been gone for ages. They were typical of the 1980s. Nowadays we don’t create fictions, but something really recognisable, which the public can empathise with.”

The latest attack on advertising came as part of a string of anti-consumerism messages from the Pope. On Christmas Day, he prayed that people who have “lost their senses because of consumerism or false illusions” would find their way back to God.

He said in October that “consumerism menaces both families and society”.

The Pope has waged a campaign to persuade people to return to simple, Christian values. In his message at Midnight Mass, he said: “When you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back.”

He donated £65,000 and 10,000 blankets to the Caritas shelter.

Three days ago, he aired his concern that Jesus was no longer being seen as the Messiah, but merely as a sort of lifestyle guru. “We have been presented with a modernised Jesus, or perhaps even a post-modernised Jesus, reduced to being simply a master of wisdom and stripped of his divinity,” he said. “He has also been presented as an idealised Jesus, who seems like a hero from a fable.”

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