Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media

"Communication for Communion"

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MADRID, Spain, FEB. 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, delivered today at an annual meeting of the communications commission for the Spanish bishops' conference.



The speech is titled "Catholic Media: the Communicative Experience of the Holy See," at an annual meeting of the communications commission for the Spanish bishops' conference.

* * *

The Church has always been a communicator; proclamation is part of her very nature. For this reason, the heralds of the Gospel have always the means at their disposition to communicate the message of faith to others. At first the living Word, then the first writings and their multiplication through copies.
 
After many centuries, the press rapidly became the essential way for the proclamation. Finally, the last century marked the advent and massive diffusion of new instruments of communication: cinema, radio, television, electronic communication through the Internet, e-mails, etc. The Church has attempted to use these new ways to carry out her mission in her various realms.
 
The Vatican means of communication have also followed this historic development: Typography and 16th-century editions; L'Osservatore Romano, 1861; Vatican Radio, 1931; Vatican Television Center, 1983; the Internet office in the 90s.
 
A Positive View of Social Communications and Their Evolution
 
The Church's magisterium has been conscious of the development of the instrument of social communications and has dedicated many interventions and documents to them, so that in a certain sense one can speak of a doctrine of the Church on social communications.
 
The Popes' documents are numerous. Vatican Council II dedicated a Decree to them ("Inter Mirifica"), which was followed by the Pastoral Instruction on Action ("Communio et Progressio," 1961). As an event, the council was a great occasion to stimulate communication between the Church and the world; from it were born the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Holy See Press Office as an "open door" between the Holy See and the world of social communications.
 
The Church's documents highlight with objectivity the problems related to social communications and the risks and ambiguities that their use implies. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that as a whole they reflect a positive point of view -- we can even say optimistic -- on the development of social communications and the possibilities they offer to put the Church's mission into practice. The documents' titles themselves sound attractive: "Miranda Prorsus" (Remarkable technical inventions), "Inter Mirifica" (Wonderful technological discoveries), "Communio et Progressio" (Unity and progress).
 
I believe we must share this attitude and try to cultivate it. Hence, my advice is not to have a fearful attitude or one of negative prejudice towards social communications and their agents, but to do everything possible to take advantage of the apostolic possibilities in the use of the instruments of communication, in two main directions in order to serve them:
 
--The proclamation of the Gospel and the message of the Church.
 
--The building of communion and of the ecclesial community.
 
We find an up dating of the reflection and teachings of the Church on social communications in the documents published in the course of time by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (for example: The Church and the Internet, Ethics in Social Communications, Ethics in Advertising, etc.). Then the series of messages for the annual Day of Social Communications help to reflect in greater depth every year on the specific points and problems of a moral, educational and pastoral character, thus contributing to the progress of a common conscience of the problems of the media in the universal Church. This year's message on "new technologies and new relations" is one of the most effective among the most recent ones. I believe it is a very positive thing to launch these topics at the international level: It encourages the development and the exchange of experiences and initiatives of collaboration among the different countries, for example, what is being done in Spain and Italy on new technologies and new relations in the pastoral care of young people. How is the experience of Web xt3 faring, developed by the Australians to enrich World Youth Day, favoring contacts between young people of different parts of the world, and then continuing after the day in Sydney? How is the preparation of the day in Madrid connecting with this experience?
 
This introduces a reflection, which it seems to me is important, on the relation between the traditional and new means in our ecclesial service.
 
We all know that today there is a great number of people who are not reached directly by the message of the Church, but who can be reached through the media, so that it is our precise duty to try to use this way, even more so these ways -- because they are many and varied -- for the proclamation of the Gospel.
 
There is an intense evolution of the media, above all but not only, in the more developed societies and we must be attentive to perceive what new ways we must use to reach our interlocutors better. This attention must be accompanied by wise prudence. Often the new generations or specific groups try new ways of social communication, but others remain attached to their customs and we must not abandon them. The "traditional" media often retain their importance, and it would be absurd to put them aside, allowing oneself be carried away by the fascination of the new technologies, thus abandoning important segments of readers and listeners.
 
When I reflect on the service of Vatican Radio and try to be aware of the quantitative valuations of the audience, I see that in general, though the audience of the broadcasting stations that re-transmit to us is not very high, it is generally quite superior to the Web's number of visitors.
 
For example, the Czech Program has a much-visited Web page in relation to the Czech-speaking world, with close 300,000 visits in one year, around 1,000 a day. But the radiophonic program is re-transmitted by a Catholic broadcasting station that has between 50,000 and 90,000 listeners a day. This means that we must be prudent and realistic when evaluating the actual weight of the various media.
 
But, of course, many young people today use several ways of communication, through the Internet, ipods or mobile phones, etc. And there are full tendencies and great development in this field. We must be able to tap them and find them in these new ways of communication, offering them signs of our presence and answers to their questions or needs. This year's message for the World Day of Social Communications is a strong encouragement in this direction. I will not pause too long on it, because it will be the topic of another of your sessions, however, I will present two observations.
 
The first: at times the speed of this evolution can make us fearful, we fear to lose contact with history, but we have with us many capable young people, who can help us: we must encourage them to live their time with confidence and we must listen to their proposals. I believe that in this way it is possible to move without agitation and with creativity in the world of the new media. In my case, the new media -- for example, starting the regular use of "podcasting," the production of "videonews" and its publication on YouTube -- have always come to me through my collaborators, and not from myself or my superiors. Also the good flowering of the widespread presence of the Italian Church on the Net certainly comes from the creativity of the grass roots, encouraged and coordinated with suitable initiatives, more than by a strategy imposed from above.
 
The second observation: Personally, I try very hard to keep a continuity of evolution in communication and to give an image of integration of its services: from the most traditional media to the newest, but also from the newest to the most traditional. From the news of RV (Vatican Radio) and of the CTV (Vatican Television Center) we have tried to amplify our presence by using YouTube, but in the home page of the Vatican's channel on YouTube we have presented a link system that links the visitors in such a way that they have possibilities for more profound information, offered by the traditional media and their Web: more ample and complete news on the life of the Church and on the present times, full texts of the Pope's addresses and documents, accessing the official Web Site of the Vatican's documentation, and coordination between the media and the Holy See. Next time I will let you know if we have been able to obtain better results.
 
A Christian and Ecclesial View of Information
 
Let us now reflect a bit on our mission, our task as people in charge of Catholic media and, specifically, of media and communication at the service of the Church, in her universal and local dimensions. It is important to see that, in our situation, it is not something that we ourselves have sought or that we have invented for ourselves, but a task that has been entrusted to us by the Church. Personally, it is something that I feel and live with great intensity; I believe it is the same for you.
 
At the same time, what we communicate by request of the Church is not an abstract message, removed from the real life of the people, of our brothers and sisters among whom and for whom we live. From this derives a certain "philosophy" of information that characterizes, for example, the international news of Vatican Radio and, it seems to me, now also with greater breadth, the Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano. It is not we who have invented the contents of the mission but we receive it, read it in relation to the problems of the time, the expectations of the audience, translating and explaining and "inculturating" it. We see the proclamation of the Church closely related with the reality of the world; we do not think of a Catholic communication separated from a "profane" communication, what interest us is man, the whole man and his problems seen from the perspective of the Gospel. Naturally, we are interested in the life of the Church in her daily happenings, but also in the whole life of humanity with its problems of development, justice, peace, human moral and spiritual growth, and its risks and problems. Vatican Radio's news tries not to be only ecclesial information but also integral information, and for us the Pope is the main commentator, even in what refers to the events of humanity today on which he usually intervenes indirectly with his teachings of a more general character, but also directly with his appeals and evaluations of social and political developments in relation to the good of people and society.
 
Naturally, in this activity we try to implement the fundamental criteria of the Christian view of information, valid for all the media, which we can briefly recall.
 
Service to truth and objectivity, placing ourselves in a Christian perspective, offering the facts of the problems and trying to help listeners to reflect on their causes, explaining the positions of the Church. Many listeners -- in different regions of the world -- tell us they appreciate information that is not guided by economic, political or ideological interests, and that is distinguished from other international broadcasting stations, dependent on strong political interests.
 
Service of a reality that does not exclude God. Benedict XVI insists on the need for a "realism" that does not reduce the realities of this world to a single subject, to the economy and technology. Because of this, it is important not to divide rigidly the information between the sacred and profane, the ecclesiastical and the mundane, but to demonstrate that the moral and religious dimensions are an essential and important part of the realm of life. Very significant from this point of view is the "hierarchy" of the news, the order in which it is given. In a world that is confused and disorients, one of the great services that we must give is to help the people of today to "put order" in the very way of seeing things and events, to distinguish what is more important and grave from what is less so.
 
Service to justice. We must pay special attention to the poorest areas and the forgotten wars, reacting in face of the great existing imbalance in world information between the "North and the South" -- be it on news, one of the possibilities to inform and to be informed --, valuing the great possibilities that the Church has of having a more just view of the problems, thanks to her capillary and close presence to people in so many places of the world (with her missionaries, aid activities, etc., that can become precious first hand points of information). I am proud that in recent research carried out in Italy on international information regarding news on the conflicts and "forgotten wars" in today's world, Vatican Radio was found to be the broadcasting station with the greatest number of news items, higher than RAI (Italian Radio and Television), including all the channels of RAI itself.
 
Service for peace. We must always try to favor understanding and dialogue between different positions and different peoples and not accentuate the oppositions. We must be able to "live" the tensions with patience, including the price of being criticized. We must always use with determination a respectful, balanced and non-aggressive language towards others, capable of inspiring serenity of judgment and mutual understanding. I have acquired much experience in Vatican Radio as to how difficult it would be, but at the same time how important it is, to help those who live personally in a conflict -- I am thinking of the Balkans and Africa, which have involved personally many of our writers of different linguistic groups -- not allowing themselves to be drawn and to give partial information or evaluation, as those proffered by the greater part of the organs of information of the countries in conflict, but to speak always as the voice of the Church, which places herself above the parties and continues, at any cost, to exhort to dialogue, reconciliation and peace.
 
In the ambit of information for peace, the information of the Holy See -- and I think yours as well -- has a very rich and up-to-date field in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue (let us think of our way of speaking of Islam, or of our way of speaking to countries where a good part of our audience or readers are not Catholic or even Christians, though also within our own European countries the number of Muslims today is very high). As we have experienced, it is often difficult, for example, in discussions after the Pope's address in Regensburg, but in the end positive results can also be obtained.
 
Attitude and Qualities of the Ecclesial Communicator
 
The ecclesial communicator -- whether that of the bishop with whom you collaborate, or whether it is you yourselves in your capacity as his spokesmen or that of the diocese's -- is he who embodies in public communication from time in time the thought, judgments and choices of the community of the Church. Because of this, to take care of her presence -- or yours -- in the world of the media is not a luxury but a duty, which corresponds to the ecclesial mission, since for many -- as already recalled -- there is no direct contact with the Church, other than the one mediated by what is read, seen, or heard through the media.
 
Above all, one can never cease to insist on the use of clear, simple and comprehensible language, not to be abstract and complicated or specialized. It is true that at times the contents is complex and the addresses must be articulated, but in the end, if we want a message to "reach" and remain in the memory of those who listen to us, we must be able to indicate its central nucleus with simplicity and clarity. If we do not do so, we cannot complain later that partial or misleading presentations have been made. So, if we present a document, we must be able to present a synthesis, a brief communiqué, an inspiring phrase, though for its deeper understanding the reading of the complete document will always be required.
 
I will give you two recent examples of my work, especially the presentation in the press office of an important document of the Holy See. It was a document of several dozen pages. The presentation, in turn, had two profound but too lengthy and ample presentations; the journalists did not even have the possibility or the time to understand and synthesize in the time they had to publish speedily the first articles and interventions. If the presentations were unsatisfactory, the fault in this case was ours, not theirs.
 
Another example is that of the recent, tormented case connected with the "Lefebvrites." We have seen, once again, how difficult it is to make "excommunication" or the remission of excommunication understood. It seems to me that today the word "excommunication" is a bad word, which evokes ghosts of the Inquisition and strong emotions and which, therefore, must be presented with great care at the hour of using it.
 
Then, we must always be truthful and clear. Perhaps it is superfluous to mention it, but I do not think so. The truth must always be told, also when faced by difficult questions. Otherwise, sooner or later we fall into contradictions, which will be thrown back in our face mercilessly, and the harm will be that much greater. The peaceful conscience that derives from always telling the truth is the essential premise to address every situation serenely, no matter how difficult it is. This does not mean that everything must always to told: there can be good reasons for discretion and prudence, but everything that is said must be true, we must be able to assume the responsibility for what we have said. The truth is an essential principle, in the so-called "communication of crises," when we are attacked by scandals or errors. There is nothing worse than to think that the situation can be improved by denying the truth.
 
When we are presented with questions that deserve an answer, it must be given and we must not take too long to give it. It is good to be willing and to respond -- personally or through a delegated person -- if we are contacted by telephone or e-mail. This generates credibility and confidence, while to slip away or to be reticent generates lack of confidence and suspicion. Timeliness is also important, so as not to make the waves of agitation grow, and not allow the ample diffusion of false or inexact information, which is later difficult to rectify. We must keep in mind that journalists must write news -- it is their job, they are often obliged to do so if there is a topic that is being talked about -- hence, if they do not receive answers that command attention, they naturally tend to develop hypotheses or conjectures, or give their own explanations. We must also realize that today information is a continuous live flow through the network and sites, and there is no time of day to respond, until tomorrow's newspapers are printed. Therefore, the sooner the answer or correct information is given the better. In general, it is best to channel or guide information by being the first to give it, and not have to run after information that is incorrect.
 
Of course, the quality and authority of the positions and interventions is important. To be willing does not mean to try to be omnipresent in the media, giving the impression of seeking notoriety. The media can be disloyal: it delighted to create its protagonists and then it rid itself of them in a short time, or in other cases turn them into slaves of the type of image that it has created. Hence, we must know well what it is that we wish to communicate and to do so in a measured way in important moments. The ideal is that we ourselves be the ones who are "firmly in command" of communication, creating propitious occasions and launching the messages that so compel us.
 
It is important "to be oneself" in communication. Each one has his own personality as communicator. Benedict XVI is different from John Paul II, but he also -- as we see increasingly -- is able to communicate with his style. Some are more agreeable, others more sober, etc., but what is important is that it be seen that the one who communicates is a sincere person, who "answers" for what he says, able to transmit convictions and emotions, beyond a cold, bureaucratic and "clerical" language in the negative sense of the term. We must remember that witness and lived experience are generally much more effective messages than conceptual reasoning or long speeches: it is good that our communication also has elements and aspects of this nature.
 
Finally, an observation: If there are things that are really reserved and that for good reasons must not be made public, they must not be told, in the end not even to friends. In the present-day world, discretion -- being reserved -- does not exist or is not considered a value, and we cannot lament if news circulates that we ourselves have given. I believe that to be good communicators also implies being able to observe the limits of communication, to distinguish well between what must be communicated and the time in which it must be communicated, and what must not be communicated or what must not yet be communicated.
 
In addition to the contents, an aspect that I consider important to underline is the pastoral care of agents of communication, namely, the relationship with journalists and the personal quality of this relationship.
 
It is necessary to keep in mind that they are concrete persons, with their human and job problems, with the indications they receive from their directors and that, at times, strongly condition their liberty. To manifest care and understanding of them, to seek occasions to meet, including personally, to invite them to participate in common moments (feast of their patron St. Francis de Sales, World Day of Social Communications, the beginning and end of the pastoral year), in certain very important or dramatic events, or thanking them for the attention shown in certain important events for the ecclesial community. All these are ways to create greater harmony to facilitate mutual confidence and understanding.
 
An observation that I consider important refers to the so-called "communication of crises," namely, of situations in which the Church is in difficulty because of grave scandals or accusations and is subjected to criticisms and attacks including in the media. Let us think of recent situations related to sexual abuses. It is necessary to be prepared for similar eventualities. The argument has been the object of further studies (for example Santiago de la Cerva, Communication of Crises in the Church, EDUSC). I believe it necessary to evoke it here and to recall some elementary counsels:
 
The only truly effective measure is to anticipate the problems, to reduce the risks before they become a crisis and to prepare for the worst.
 
To determine, in the first place, what the message of the institution will be, to identify the public to which it is directed, to choose a spokesman and the appropriate channels of communication.
 
Not to think only of the "external" public, but before anything else of the "internal" workings of the Church, to keep its confidence. To think of the victims: the public will judge how the people have been treated who --voluntarily or not -- have been harmed.
 
The perceptions of the public are important as is the truth of the events: the problem must be contemplated with the eyes of the public (there is a "tribunal of public opinion") and if the people think there is a crisis, the crisis already exists.
 
It is necessary to try to recover the initiative, to become a source of information, to collaborate with the authorities, and to respond to the media.
 
It is necessary to speak with one voice and to transmit consistent, clear, simple and repeated messages. Voices that contradict one another destroy the confidence of listeners.
 
The key word is "credibility," to always and only tell the truth. We must never lie, hide the truth or affirm things that are not confirmed. Only one lie destroys credibility.
 
Bad news must be communicated soonest and at once (not little by little). If there have been errors, we must ask for pardon. Only thus can we think of being forgiven.
 
In regard to the section on "asking for pardon," attention must also be paid to the juridical implications, so that responsibilities are not attributed that do not exist. In the most critical cases, a legal consultation is important.
 
Communication at the Service of Ecclesial Communion at All Levels
 
The instruments of Catholic social communication are essential instruments for the building of the Christian community and of the wider human community.
 
If there are communications of the diocesan press, radio or television, or of greater extent, they must be encouraged, also if it is necessary to evaluate their quality and usefulness and the means they require; at times it is necessary to give way to new initiatives. Today, for example, it is indispensable to guarantee an effective presence of the diocesan reality on the Web. However, it is necessary to recall always that communication -- above all in the Church -- is a value that requires energy and entails costs, but which rarely generates revenues. In this connection it is necessary to help our superiors to have a long view, to keep in mind that there are returns and results that are not monetary but important, so that it is worthwhile to invest and spend, otherwise they will not be obtained. Often it is necessary to dedicate financial means or to seeks to have them help communication not only from the point of view of the availability of the material instruments, but also and even more so, for the formation of qualified and capable people.
 
As I said, communication, both as information and as circulation of other messages, testimonies, further reflection, etc. must be at the service of ecclesial communion.
 
"Communication for communion" has become for me in the course of time a persistent motto, which continually inspires all my work as communicator and which I regard essential to indicate to my collaborators inspiration and orientation in their work of ecclesial service as communicators. It is a more concrete motto than might seem at first glance: it guides the options of language, of the approach to listening and of benevolence to all the interlocutors, the pleasure of creating moments of dialogue and mutual understanding, also in the ecumenical and inter-religious field, etc. It is a decisive approach: I always want to speak only to unite, not to divide. I believe we must all realize that communication is the powerful and effective way to build ecclesial communion, this is the premise to make the concrete decision to support it and to promote it wholeheartedly.
 
The discourse of communication for communion is articulated, naturally, at several levels: in the diocese, but also beyond its borders, in order to be open to the horizons of the region, the country, the continent, and the universal Church. Indeed, it is precisely social communication that is the principal way to unite daily the faithful to the wider community of the Church, immersed in the world.
 
It is a theme that I have very much in mind, because I believe that to nourish the dimension of union of the universal Church through communication, building bridges between the local Churches and Rome, is, in fact, the principal mission of the means of the Holy See in which I have worked for 18 years.
 
I am ever more convinced that good communication in the Church needs the integration of the different levels of communication, each one of which is necessary, and they must be complementary among themselves: the local level (parochial or diocesan), the intermediary level (normally national) and the universal level. The Bishop, the Episcopal Conference, and the Pope must be present on the horizon of the Catholic community and of each faithful as member of the Church.
 
In the use of the instrument of radio communication: this has been realized increasingly in several countries. Sometimes in a positive and effective way, for example in France: there are diocesan radios that are united in a network at the national level (RCF, Radio Chrétiennes in France) and which receive and re-transmit Vatican Radio's programs in French, including them in their programming. It seems to me to be the most desirable and balanced solution, not only technically but also ecclesiologically.
 
I think one must seek, in the respective countries, the most effective ways of collaboration in the field of social communications, to guarantee at the same time the vitality of the local communication and the wider dimension, which gives the sense of the universality and union of the universal Church.
 
This is the direction that has been given in many countries, and it is natural that it so be.
 
In this connection, the function of the Vatican means of communication must be seen as a service that attempts to integrate the indispensable communicative commitment of the local Churches. We do not consider ourselves absolutely able to embrace all communication in the Church, but we do consider ourselves as the central nucleus of a very great network spread out in a capillary way throughout the world.
 
I can speak more concretely about Vatican Radio, which, in fact, prepares programs in so many different languages, which are always more effectively placed in the programming of the Catholic radios that are growing in the whole world and that receive them regularly either through satellite or the Internet, while the direct diffusion on short waves serves above all for countries where there is, or cannot be, local Catholic radios.
 
Something similar is what we do in the Vatican Television Center, which make available to TV of all types, and also to Catholic TV -- as Popular TV -- the images of the Pope's activity, which constitutes a precious and important point of their programming. However, given that Web TV is developing rapidly -- as it costs less and is more flexible, we have taken the route of the production of brief video news on the daily activity of the Pope, and we collaborate with other Catholic television agencies to produce and spread information easily accessible in this way.
 
I think it is necessary to enumerate here in detail all the informative and documentation services made available from Rome. I recall only that, in addition to Vatican Radio and the CTV (Vatican television Center) you can find L'Osservatore Romano in several languages (weekly editions) -- Web site www.vatican.va, rich in documentation and information (also the Bulletin of the Press Office with the complete texts of the Pope's addresses rapidly published, and the news of the Vatican Information Service ). Services carried out by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (worldvision for Christmas and Easter; the Digital Network of the Church in Latin America (RIIAL), etc.). (Other information can be provided in the time dedicated to questions and answers).
 
A Glance By Way of Conclusion
 
To conclude, I will say that ours is a very dynamic period, which opens ecclesial communication to many possibilities and that must be lived with serenity and enthusiasm.
 
It is true that there are great informative powers before which we feel small and poor, but it is also true that the Church has great vitality and is close to the real life of people.
 
We must not have a too centralized vision of the Church; we must balance universality with local creative capacity. We must be able to encourage local initiatives, know how to circulate positive experiences and exchange them, try to coordinate and integrate the contributions for communication at the different levels, always appreciating the informative and communicative value that the universal Church offers us.
 
We must have confidence, the Spirit is working. I want to recall the words of the concluding paragraph of the last Apostolic Letter of John Paul II of 2005, dedicated precisely to the "Rapid Development of the Social Means of Communication":
 
"To the agents of communication and, especially, to believers who work in this important realm of society, I renew the invitation that from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the universal Church I have wished to launch to the entire world: "Do not be afraid!"
 
Do not be afraid of the new technologies, as they are among the wonderful things!" -- "Inter miriifica" -- which God has placed at our disposition to discover, use, and make the truth known, including the truth on our dignity and destiny as his children, heirs of the Eternal Kingdom.
 
Do not be afraid of the world's opposition! Jesus has assured us "I have overcome the world."
 
Do not be afraid of your weakness and incapacity! The Divine Teacher has said: "I am with you all days until the end of the world." Communicate the message of hope, of grace and of love of Christ, always maintaining alive, in this passing world, the eternal perspective of heaven" (No. 14).

[Translation by ZENIT]