Communicating "Faces, People, Stories"

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Hosts International Communications Conference

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, APRIL 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Catholic communicators today have the challenge of representing Catholic identity by conveying the richness of the Catholic Church through its people, and not solely through the Church's institutional structure.

This was the theme of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross' seminar, "Faces, People, Stories," hosted by the university's department of Church communications. Through a series of presentations, the seminar, which began today and concludes Wednesday, aims to address how Catholic communications offices can transmit the vitality of the Christian experience by exploring the personal history of Catholic Church members.

Included among the speakers on Monday was Mark von Riedemann, managing director of the Catholic Radio and Television Network. This production facility, which is based in Germany, creates documentaries that tell the story of the suffering and persecuted Church around the world. A native of Canada, Riedemann is the program host for a weekly TV and radio program titled Where God Weeps. The Where God Weeps documentaries, three of which were featured during this morning's presentation, are produced with the support of Aid to the Church in Need. Interviews from the documentaries are published by ZENIT.

Riedemann spoke with ZENIT about the Where God Weeps documentaries, and the particular challenges which Catholic communicators currently face.

Solidarity and evangelization

The objective of these documentaries, which are broadcast in 22 stations worldwide in multiple languages, is two-fold: to inspire solidarity with those in the persecuted Church who are suffering, and to evangelize. The reason for inspiring this sense of solidarity is simple, Riedemann explains, "because we want to give a voice and help them have a voice." Secondly, the documentaries seek to evangelize, for in allowing the viewers to "see how Christians live their faith despite the persecution and suffering, hopefully it will allow we, who are in our comfortable chairs, to say 'wait a minute, they are willing to go to that length of their faith. How do I live my faith?' And in this way, we try and develop a process of evangelization."

Expanding the target audience

A challenge which Catholics who work in fields of communications often face is that of ensuring the message reaches further than just Catholic audiences. Modern means of communication should be taken advantage, therefore, to transmit the Christian message to secular audiences. "The opportunity that's been given to us – through Facebook, social networks, Youtube, [means of distribution are open to us in a way that they] were never open to us before – gives us the ability to communicate to an audience which may not be necessarily, on first view, interested in what we have to say."

Riedemann explains further that the documentaries are relatively short in length, which makes their dissemination to a broader audience more feasible. "This is why we took the step at developing short-format productions, because we thought we have to get into the Internet, we have to get into Youtube, to reach out to those viewers who may not otherwise be seeking Christian or Catholic documentaries."

The vocation of journalism

Riedemann spoke also about the need for journalists to maintain high standards of professionalism. Among journalists, he said, "there's a lot of good will, but there's a need for professionalization because viewers and the audiences have become so sophisticated in their tastes – watching the secular media, MTV, the editing levels, the production values – that unless we reach that level as Christian journalists, it's going to be very difficult for us to reach those viewers because they will simply see our message as 'second best.' Professionalization is an important value for Christian and Catholic journalists today. "

"God has given us gifts," Riedemann concluded, "and we've all been called in our work to respond to the gifts that God has given to us. One of these vocations is journalism. The ability to communicate the truth, to communicate the faith to others, is something which is increasingly important today, especially when we're confronting, as Pope Benedict says, relativism and more and more aggressive secularization; the need for educated, qualified journalists who love the Church, is increasingly important.

"This knowledge, this understanding of journalism as a vocation is very, very important because it is that which allows us to be rooted in the faith and to communicate this faith to those who are seeking it."