People gather in St. Peter’s Square. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Salt and Light opens Rome bureau

By 
  • March 9, 2022

Early in the pandemic BBC presenter and documentary film producer Jen Copestake was reminded in a way she never had been before that she is a Catholic journalist.

“I was presenting a program for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance in Switzerland,” she recalled during a Zoom call with The Catholic Register. “After 10 minutes of the presentation, which was live around the world on the Internet, I was asked to take off my cross.”

Copestake has worn that cross for years as she presented BBC One’s weekend breakfast show Click. No one had ever objected.

“There was social media backlash to me presenting with the cross (during the Gavi webcast), and ‘Could I please take it off.’ So I said no, of course,” Copestake recalled. “I’m not going to take it off. Either I’m staying and presenting with the cross, or I’m leaving.”

She finished the job, “but that really shook me up,” she said. “It really changed my perspective of how we’re viewed as Christians. I’m very proud of my faith and I want to completely integrate that into my journalism. I don’t think the two are separate.”

A couple years on and any such separation has just become impossible. Copestake is Salt + Light Media’s newest hire, heading up the Canadian Catholic broadcaster’s new Rome office.

Copestake spent 15 years at the BBC. She’s also worked for British broadcaster ITV, interned at the CBC, studied conflict journalism at the University of London and took her undergraduate degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Salt + Light CEO Fr. Alan Fogerty insists putting a seasoned journalist in Rome to open the most important expansion of the World Youth Day-inspired media ministry since it was established 20 years ago is not the launch of a new Catholic news source. The Salt and Light licence with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission does not extend to news. At the same time Fogarty says he believes “there is a need for something that’s truthful, that’s balanced, that’s legitimate, that’s well-sourced.”

For now Copestake is tasked with building up Salt and Light’s capabilities in Rome along the same lines as the existing operation in Toronto and Montreal, with an emphasis on documentaries and interviews that give voice to the Church in our times.

Nobody becomes a trusted news service overnight, Copestake pointed out.

“We should take our time to be a trusted name in news. That would be a fantastic thing to do in the future, if it’s achievable,” she said.

Fogarty is all caution.

“History is never kind to those who try to rush it,” he said.

The first big test will be the Indigenous delegations arriving in Rome to meet with Pope Francis on March 26. In the meantime, Copestake is trying to establish practical things like office space in the Vatican’s La Stampa building,

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