Thursday, May 29, 2008

In Blessed TO, "Blessed TV!"

This weekend, close to 500 church communicators have gathered in Toronto for the Catholic Media Convention -- the recently-merged annual gathering of ecclesiastical "old media" headlined by the Catholic Press Association. Serving as twin hosts in Canada's media capital -- home to an energetic B16 appointee who's one of the global church's most camera-friendly prelates -- are the national weekly Catholic Register and the first-fruit of TO's 2002 World Youth Day, Salt + Light TV.

As CNS' Jim Lackey blogs away from the event, one of its main speeches was delivered this morning by the director of the Holy See Press Office/supremo of Vatican Radio and CTV, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi. The talk was the first major address given in English by the commonly-termed "papal spokesman" who, in his spare time, serves as a top assistant to Jesuit Father-General Adolfo Nicolás... and received an honorary degree from the local Jesuit college earlier in the week (Lombardi's shown above on one of his home-turfs: the Aula or briefing room of the Press Office).

CNSBlog has the fulltext of The Portavoce's extensive talk on "When the Pope Speaks to the World," snipped below:
A few days after the conclusion of an apostolic trip, the three or four people responsible for Vatican media who travelled in the papal entourage, would always be invited to a working lunch with Pope John Paul II and the Monsignor from the Secretariat of State who followed the international print media coverage of the trip. The Pope wanted to know how the trip had been presented in the media. He wanted to reflect with his collaborators on what messages had gotten through and what hadn’t. He wanted to know whether his message had reached the broader public or not.

He did this every single time, even after his one hundredth trip, when one would have thought he already understood how the media function… It was always a pleasant lunch, of course… but it was definitely a working lunch. The Pope knew exactly what he wanted from this kind of meeting and he never let the conversation digress very far from the main issue.

After his election, when Benedict XVI heard about his predecessor’s tradition in this regard, he decided to do the same. So after every voyage we have an informal conversation about how the trip was communicated in the media. This approach impresses me deeply. It says a lot about the two popes’ relationship with the media, about their attention to the media as a dimension of everyday life, about their awareness that the media are fundamental and necessary for spreading any message. It is a peaceful and humble awareness that tries to understand and apply the dynamics of communication in today’s world without fear, without conditioning.

Pope Benedict knows, just as John Paul II did, what he wants to say and what he should say. Neither of them would ever adapt their message, either out of fear or out of love for the media. And both of them truly cared whether or not the message was understood....

During a conversation with a group of German journalists shortly after his trip to Valencia, Spain, for the World Day for Families, one of them asked Pope Benedict why he chose not to mention the fact that the Zapatero government was so aggressive toward the Christian vision of the family. The Pope replied, saying he had only twenty or thirty minutes to give two speeches and that he had chosen to use that time positively to express the beautiful idea of the Christian Family. When there is time for more ample and elaborate discourses, then we need to recall the negative points as well. But it is always necessary to have a criterion, a hierarchy in expressing the Christian proposition. Evidently, that which is positive takes first place. It is no accident that the Pope’s first Encyclical was on Love, the second on Hope. No accident either that his first book was about Jesus, who shows us the face of God.

When he speaks to young people too, right from his homily at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, Benedict XVI insists that ours is not a religion of prohibitions, of “no’s!” Rather, it is based on the great “yes!” of love. The pedagogy of holiness, the presentation of concrete, attractive models of sanctity, of fulfilled Christian lives, which John Paul II promoted in a very obvious way, and which Benedict XVI continues to promote in a more moderate form, is in this same line.

As communicators, we must not let ourselves be taken in by the myth of a communication that thinks it needs to be polemical in order to be effective. There is good news out there, and there are good examples that can attract attention - Mother Teresa knew how to attract many by the beauty of her charity and holiness.

Of course we must be realistic. We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture. In this, Benedict XVI is clear and decisive. In this, he refuses to compromise. His critique of relativism, subjectivism, individualism, of materialism and hedonism, is frequent and frank, especially as regards current tendencies in European culture. He is convinced that values are at stake which are extremely important for humanity, for society and the future. He is convinced that the manipulation of life and the distorting of the proper relationship between a man and a woman pose very serious risks for humanity. He is convinced that closure to a transcendent horizon causes us to lose our basic points of reference and he maintains that it is his duty to say so with clarity.

We must be careful though, not to let ourselves be imprisoned in a prevalently negative outlook, as many of the media that have a prejudicially diffident vision of the Church try to do, sometimes intentionally. If our contemporaries perceive us simply as adversaries of the new, we will be cut off from the conversation on which the future will be built.

Once again, it seems to me that the speeches of Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the United States are a particularly effective example of the balance between the positive message and the clear identification of evils, divisions, weaknesses and dangers. The best way is the one that avoids the traps of naïve optimism and those of radical pessimism, which does not believe in the presence and the power of the workings of grace....

As we all know, a crucial point the Pope was expected to address when he came to the United States was that of the clerical sexual abuse crisis. For months, people were asking whether he would say anything at all, how he would deal with the question, whether he would avoid it. It was obvious he couldn’t avoid the subject altogether, since it was a problem that had marked the life of the Church so painfully in recent years. The first public indication that the Pope was going to speak about it came in the interviews given by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, the week before the Holy Father’s departure. When I collected the questions proposed by journalists travelling on the papal flight, in order to show them to His Holiness, two days before he was to leave for the States, I wasn’t surprised to see that questions regarding the clergy sexual abuse issue were the most often submitted.

Questions proposed by Spanish-language journalists regarding immigration ran a close second. The Pope’s decision to respond during the flight - speaking off-the-cuff in English - surprised even me. His honest and courageous words instantly won him the respect and esteem of countless numbers of people. You all know what happened next. You heard the Pope’s various remarks on the subject. You also remember his meeting with some of the victims and the decision to hold the encounter in the most discreet and respectful manner possible. Though it was private, this gesture completed the Holy Father’s words and made them even more credible. It is a general principle that we ought to keep in mind when considering the effectiveness of communication, a principle in which the Church has long centuries of experience in her liturgy: words and actions complement one another.

It is vitally important to tell the truth with clarity and simplicity. Every ambiguity, every reticence and, worse still, every intentional concealment of the truth, will exact a dear price in the end. The vicissitudes connected to the sexual abuse crisis were the weightiest proof of this. The Pope understood that to heal the wounds of the past there was need for the kind of sincerity that is absolutely devoid of uncertainty. We are all grateful to Pope Benedict for this....

The Church continues to offer us a vision of the good that social communications can perform in the service of society and the human person. The titles of the Church’s documents on the subject are all optimistic: Miranda Prorsus, Inter Mirifica, Communio et Progressio, Aetatis Novae, The Rapid Development….

One evening, John Paul II was participating in a prayer vigil with Roman university students. Together with the Vatican Television Centre we’d organized complicated two-way TV link-ups with several different cities. At one point the Pope exclaimed: “What a wonderful thing this television is! It allows me to talk with my young people in Krakow even when I am here in Rome… Blessed TV!”. I was deeply struck. The Pope taught me to have a positive Christian vision of television, something I usually thought of as a source of various problems and evils! His was a prophetic vision, a vision that sees beyond what things are, and that helps us make them what they should be: in the service of good and of the human person. We must never get discouraged as we perform our service!

Pope John Paul II wrote in his final apostolic letter on communications, “Rapid Development”: “The communicator is not only one who practices his work, but someone who “lives” his work. As communicator, the person transmits a view and, therefore, becomes a witness. Communicators must be witnesses of values that are good for society. Communications and the media become instruments at the service of peace, at the service of the development of human society.”

Let us continue to work together at the service of peace, at the service of the development of human society.

God bless you all!
Again, it's well worth a full read.

In what's believed to be a first, B16 sent a message to the Toronto gathering, where the Vatican delegation's being led by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council f0r Social Communications along with his predecessor (the "patriarch" of the Catholic press), Philadelphia's own John Cardinal Foley.

And then, the Italian press lit up with talk that the Pope would himself take to the airwaves....

While the CMC veers Establishment in its membership, a parallel event for Catholic New Media will be taking place in late June in Atlanta.

And someday sooner rather than later, may the two become one.