Christian media needs to highlight positive, not be afraid of negative

By 
  • May 30, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Jesuit Father Frederico Lombardi urged Catholic media to highlight the positive and beautiful in Christian life, but at the same time not to duck the responsibility to recognize and denounce evil.

“Deep in the hearts of many people, there is the hope for something good,” the papal spokesperson told a plenary session of the international Catholic Media Convention here May 29.

He noted how after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, television stations approached him, asking for pictures of the Pope at prayer while Europe observed a minute of silence to honour the victims. He arranged for pictures of the Pope praying in silence at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, and those photos were transmitted worldwide.

Lombardi said Pope Benedict echoed this image when he prayed at Ground Zero in Manhattan during his April trip to the United States. He described this as “one of the most intense and evocative moments of the time spent in America.”

He said the death of Pope John Paul II provided “the greatest media event in the history of social communications.”

Lombardi recalled that during his long association with Pope John Paul, he was deeply struck by the pope’s prophetic vision of television’s possibilities. Lombardi said that, until then, he had seen TV as a “source of various problems and evils.” Pope John Paul saw “beyond what things are” to see them as they should be.

“It is always necessary to have a criterion, a hierarchy in expressing the Christian proposition,” Lombardi told several hundred journalists and communications professionals from across North Americap. “Evidently, that which is positive takes first place.”

He pointed out it was “no accident” Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was on love, and his second was on hope, nor that his first book was “on Jesus who shows us the face of God.”

“Benedict XVI insists that ours is not a religion of prohibitions, of nos," he said.

Pope Benedict, however, has been realistic and uncompromising in his critiques of relativism, subjectivism, individualism, materialism and hedonism, he said.

“We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture,” he said.

Lombardi urged Catholic media to confront difficult problems and tell the truth. He gave as an example the way the Pope addressed the clerical abuse crisis when he visited the United States. Not only did Pope Benedict speak candidly about the evils of the abuse, he made his words even more credible by his private, respectful meeting with victims, he said.

“Every ambiguity, every reticence and, worse, still every intentional concealment of the truth will exact a dear price in the end,” Lombardi said.

He warned Catholic journalists against becoming “imprisoned” by an overly negative outlook.

“If our contemporaries perceive us as simply as adversaries of the new, we will be cut off from the conversations on which the future will be built,” he said.

Using examples from his 30 years with Vatican Radio and his experience with Vatican TV, Lombardi spoke of the need to learn from experience. Pope John Paul used to have a working lunch after every apostolic visit to assess “what messages had gotten through and what had not.” Pope Benedict has continued a practice of holding similar reviews. Lombardi said these reveal both popes’ understanding of the media as a “dimension of everyday life” and “fundamental and necessary for the spreading of any message.”

Lombardi said because Pope John Paul was serene in his relationship with God and with others and was not “seeking approval,” the media soon realized the pope was not afraid of them, nor would he let himself be dominated by them.

Though Pope Benedict is “very different” the media is “getting to know him better,” he said.

Even the misunderstanding that followed Pope Benedict’s address in Regensburg, Germany, has produced a “positive dynamic” in the clarifications and dialogue that has followed the proper relationship of faith and reason and the rejection of violence in religion, he said. The reaction to the Pope’s Regensburg speech showed the need for discussing seriously what the Pope had to say on these issues, he said.

But some of the clarification has been revealed through the Pope’s character.

“Seen up close, he is a kind, humble, gentle person,” Lombardi said. The Pope’s visit to the mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, after the violent reaction to his Regensburg speech “revealed a respectful and humble Pope who let himself be guided by the imam and who paused in silent prayer facing Mecca.”

Lombardi said this image of respect for Islam was “worth dozens of theoretical statements.”

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