Faith Has No Borders
VATICAN CITY — You might say he takes care of the vocal chords of the Vatican — Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi is the new director of Vatican Radio. This month, he succeeded Jesuit Father Pasquale Borgomeo, who had headed the Vatican's broadcaster for more than two decades.
Father Lombardi spoke Nov. 12 with Register correspondent Edward Pentin about Vatican Radio's mission and his vision for its future.
How long have you worked at Vatican Radio?
Fifteen years, always as the program director. I arrived at the beginning of 1991.
Before that you were the Jesuit Provincial for Italy?
Yes, for six years, and before that I was with Civilta Cattolica, 11 years there, and for a long period I was the deputy editor on the publication.
During the Cold War, the radio was often referred to as the voice of the catacombs — the only means by which Catholics in Soviet bloc countries could keep in contact with the universal Church.
Yes, this is a vocation of Vatican Radio, to help in particular the Churches and nations where there is no freedom, particularly no religious freedom.
I think that one of the original ideas of Pius XI was that it should speak across barriers, to nations in which there was no freedom. During his time, there was Nazism and communism in large parts of the world. The shortwave radio was the only means to speak to these people and to give them a sense of presence of the Pope and the universal Church.
From the beginning, this was a vocation of Vatican Radio, and also during and after the war with the spreading of communism being a big part of Eastern Europe. We have this tradition as an important part of our work. Naturally, we now have so many languages for Eastern Europe because we did impressive work of communication to countries which had no religious freedom, nations of Eastern Europe under the communists.
Albania was one of those nations, and the radio was awarded a prize by the country's prime minister in November.
Yes, exactly, that was very kind. The prize came from the president of the republic but it was the prime minister who came to personally give the prize. But the decision to award it originally came from a predecessor who was a socialist. So it's interesting that the decision came not from a particular party.
But it's recognition from all the people of Albania, also in recent years, because we continue our work there. They recognize that our work crosses over the parties, [Vatican Radio] tries to speak for all the nation, all the people of good will, educating and to trying to bring dialogue and not siding with one party or another.
It's very important now, after communism, for many of these nations and of these Churches to accompany them in this new situation. There are people who think that after communism, there's no need for us to broadcast, but this is totally stupid. We broadcast for people and the Church in these nations.
Under the communists they had the problem of persecution and no freedom, but now they have other problems: to cope with the new situation, to grow in democracy, to learn the message of the Church in a more secular society that now has new religious problems.
We have a lot of work to do in this case, and I am happy that the Albanians have recognized at this time the good of Vatican Radio, not only in the past but also for today.
Is Vatican Radio's outreach to China and the Middle East, where persecution can be harsh and religious freedom severely curtailed, key to the radio's mission?
Yes, but we have two major concerns: China and Vietnam. They have a long [radio] program — more than 40 minutes each day in these two languages because the Church in these nations has many problems. But the main problem is of communication, receiving materials for the good of Christian formation, and also information — good and objective — about the line of the Pope and the Vatican. So in this sense our programming for China and Vietnam is very important.
Now there is the possibility to work with the Internet. This is something new and many people listen or read on the Internet our contributions even if sometimes in China today there are obstacles preventing free use of the Internet. In any case, this is a new way of broadcasting.
For the Middle East regions, we have one program in Arabic and we also have the broadcasting of the Mass in English for the foreign workers who are there — Filipino and Indian. In Saudi Arabia they are not allowed to have possibilities for worship. Exactly for these main reasons, and in India, we need shortwave because that's the only way to reach there from here without hindrance.
What's your vision for the radio?
I would say that the mission of Vatican Radio is very clear and real: to offer good communications between the center of the Church and the universal Church, and people who are interested in knowing the service of the Pope and his teaching. This is a very real mission that we will continue to do and it's very, very important because in a world of communication it is difficult to be united for such an important mission.
And we have to continue to be very universal in our perspective, in our use of different languages, in enculturation of the same message. We're a little mirror of the universality of the Church.
What changes very much is technology and the different ways we have to communicate. We are going towards more integrated and multimedia way of communicating.
In this sense I don't see Vatican Radio only as radio — we are already on the Internet, not only with sound and written text, and I think we have to integrate that with images, to work in synergy with Vatican television, to be multi-medial, to give text, sound and image.
Also, we have to see how we can diffuse this message with different means. We have already begun podcasting. We have to keep up to date to communicate.
The mission is clear: to serve the universal Church, to serve the Pope and the universal Perspective — that is, to be at the disposition of the Church in the world.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.
- November 27-December 3, 2005