National Catholic Register


The Wired Pope


April 30-May 6, 2006 Issue | Posted 5/1/06 at 11:00 AM


A year ago, Pope Benedict showed that there’s one part of John Paul’s pontificate he wants to repeat: the former Pope’s use of the media.

On April 23, 2005, four days after being elected to the See of Peter, the Holy Father met with journalists, photographers and television technicians.

“Certainly, John Paul II was a great pioneer of this open and sincere dialogue, together with you, workers in the field of social communications, with whom he maintained constant and fruitful relations throughout the more than 26 years of his pontificate,” said Benedict on that occasion. “It is my desire to continue this fruitful dialogue, and in this way I share an observation made by John Paul II: ‘The current phenomenon of communications impels the Church toward a sort of pastoral and cultural revision, so as to deal adequately with the times in which we live.’”

In his Jan. 24 message for the 40th World Communications Day titled “The Media: A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation,” the Holy Father proposed three steps for a constructive use and view of the media:

" First, “formation in the responsible and critical use” of the media.

" Second, “a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability for the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust.”

" Third, “promotion of dialogue through the exchange of learning, the expression of solidarity and the espousal of peace.”

On March 3, Pope Benedict visited Vatican Radio headquarters to mark the station’s 75th anniversary. He praised the organization for its efforts to evangelize and to offer pastoral support and comfort, especially to Catholics and missionaries in remote areas and totalitarian regimes.

In effect, six years after its foundation, Vatican Radio broadcasted in six different languages. It expanded its programming in 1949 and 1950 to Arabic and Chinese, respectively. During the Cold War, it delivered news and the Gospel message in 17 Central and Eastern European languages. Today, its programs are a lifeline for the unofficial Catholic Church in China and other persecuted lands.

Broadcasting now in 45 languages, Vatican Radio is, as Pope Benedict called it, “a chorus of voices” that can “dialogue with different cultures and religions.”

“In cooperation with parents, the social communications and entertainment industries can assist in the difficult but sublimely satisfying vocation of bringing up children, through presenting edifying models of human life and love,” Benedict said in his March 17 address to the Council for Social Communications. “How disheartening and destructive it is to us all when the opposite occurs! Do not our hearts cry out, most especially when our young people are subjected to debased or false expressions of love which ridicule the God-given dignity of the human person and undermine family interests?”

To solve the problem, the popes taught us not to lament but rather to take action.

First and foremost, we should count upon the help of the Holy Spirit.

“Such help is all the more necessary,” John Paul wrote in his apostolic letter “The Rapid Development,” “when one considers how greatly the obstacles intrinsic to communication can be increased by ideologies, by the desire for profit or for power, and by rivalries and conflicts between individuals and groups, and also because of human weakness and social troubles.”

We should then use the media intelligently, professionally, courageously.

“Do not be afraid of new technologies,” the Holy Father exhorted in the same document. They are marvelous things that “God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom. Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world. Jesus has assured us, ‘I have conquered the world’ (John 16:33). Do not be afraid even of your own weakness and inadequacy.”

To do this, we may be inspired by Vatican Radio. During his visit to its headquarters, Pope Benedict was given a brand new 2-gigabyte digital audio player loaded with special Vatican Radio programming and classical music. With his new iPod, the Pope can access the radio’s daily podcasts in eight languages, as well as download music and audio books from the Internet.

Benedict was impressed by the tiny but significant gift.

“Computer technology is the future,” he reportedly said to Mauro Milita, the head of the radio’s technical and computer support department.

We know the Pope is right. The new technology of the media is ever more influential in the formation of our minds and lifestyles.

We are then urged to work in what the Holy Father called “the great areopagus of modern communications.”

Pope Benedict invited the Vatican Radio staff to treasure the extraordinary experience of the great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and especially that of the death of beloved Pope John Paul II — “an event that showed humanity’s eagerness to be acquainted with the reality of the Church.”

Last year, we witnessed the media’s impressive coverage of John Paul’s death and burial, as well as of Benedict’s election.

People thirst for the truth and the good. People thirst for Christ’s salvific message.

We should not be slow to use, as Pope Pius XI used, innovative ways to spread that message throughout the world.

We should not be afraid of exploiting, like the 20th-century popes, the God-given gift of new technology.

If we follow the popes’ exhortation and courage, we will be able to tell the Lord that we have literally obeyed his command: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar

teaches philosophy at Rome’s

Regina Apostolorum University.