Fr. Frederico Lombardi speaks at Salt + Light TV’s 15th anniversary gathering May 25. Photo by Michael Swan

Former papal spokesman helps Salt + Light mark 15th anniversary

  • May 29, 2017

TORONTO – If the news seems to be shouting at you and your Facebook feed is crowded with takedown artists, Fr. Frederico Lombardi has an alternative media diet you might want to consider.

The former spokesperson for Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis helped Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation officially inaugurate its new broadcast studios and office space in mid-town Toronto May 25 with a keynote address that recalled the communication styles of the three popes of our time.

Goodness, beauty, truth and union are hallmarks of any truly Catholic presence in the media, the Jesuit told an audience of about 300 gathered to celebrate a milestone in the development of 15-year-old Salt + Light TV.

The Church needs to be present in all forms of media, but once there it has to have a genuine Gospel mission, Lombardi said. Catholic media should be “helping to bring our world and our Church — often choked by nostalgia, darkness, evil and sadness — the light, purity and goodness that comes from God,” he said.

Pope John Paul II, the actor-philosopher pontiff whom Lombardi served as director of Vatican television and radio services, revolutionized the use of media over his 27 years wearing the shoes of the fisherman.

“He told the world that it should not be afraid of opening the doors to Christ, but at the same time he told each of us that we must not be afraid of giving witness to our faith,” said Lombardi. “And he was the first example of this witness.”

Rather than lecture, Pope John Paul II was at his best showing the world the courage embedded in his faith, said Lombardi.

“He was not afraid of showing himself, his feelings and his ideas, his convictions and finally his own physical conditions,” Lombardi said. “During the Angelus address when he said ‘no’ to war, he banged upon the lectern with his fist. When he challenged the mafiosi to conversion or when he admonished his own Polish people to wisely use the freedom that they had regained, his voice cried out, filled with a holy anger.”

From the dramatic photo of the Polish pope’s meeting with his would-be assassin Ali Agca to that final image of the 84-year-old pontiff struggling to speak from the window above St. Peter’s Square as Parkinson’s strangled his words, it was St. John Paul II’s willingness to be “exposed naked and opened under the gaze of God,” that captured the world’s imagination.

salt light webOthers in attendance at Salt + Light TV’s 15th anniversary celebration May 15 include, from left to right: Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec and Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. (Photo by Michael Swan)

“He was a communicator who was absolutely credible and one with authority,” said Lombardi.

Pope Benedict XVI was no actor. The theologian-bishop, plucked by Pope John Paul II from his university to defend Catholic doctrine, crafted his own communication style out of a fierce dedication to the truth. Staring down the crimes of sexual abuse covered up by bishops and church officials, Benedict remained focussed on knowing and telling the truth.

“It was necessary to recognize the truth even when it is extremely painful, to go deep into the truth before God and men,” said Lombardi. “To not be worried about the image first, or concerned about saving face.”

As Lombardi faced the press daily through the eight years of Pope Benedict’s papacy, he became increasingly aware of his boss’s “great witness to the transparency of truth, with humility and personal suffering.”

Still the pope’s spokesman in the astonishing first days of Pope Francis’s papacy, Lombardi found himself the bearer of good news as the new pope paid his own hotel bills, settled into modest rooms away from the papal palace, was driven around in an old Fiat and continued to wear his battered, black shoes.

“In Francis, words go together with gestures,” said Lombardi. “The body expresses the heart and the mind.”

If Pope Francis’s airplane press conferences seem scattered and venture thoughts not fully formed and polished, that is the result of Pope Francis dedication to authenticity.

“He talks to us constantly about the culture of encounter and makes us realize that it is not enough to communicate concepts,” said Lombardi. “We need to talk about ourselves, to enter into the game so that the other understands that we offer him or her a real piece of our life, our whole self.”

Hosted by former Canada AM news personality Valerie Pringle, the Salt + Light bash brought in cardinals from Washington, Quebec City and Toronto along with representatives of the Knights of Columbus, Boston-based Catholic TV and American news channel CNN.

Salt + Light CEO Fr. Tom Rosica capped off the evening by bestowing the first ever Ecce Award for outstanding Catholic communicators to Lombardi. Another award for distinguished service in mainstream journalism went to CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley. Salt + Light’s seventh annual Lover of Life award went to the Laurent and Florence LeBourgeois family, which includes Salt + Light French producer Charles LeBourgeois.

More than twice the size of its former offices, the new Salt + Light studios include a large soundstage and modern editing suites. A deal between Salt + Light and CBS will see the American network using Salt + Light’s facilities when working in Toronto.

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