March 19, 2013
Mass Media Appeal
Communicating the Gospel
Pope Francis reads remarks during a press gathering at the Vatican.
The Holy Father's first public audience was for the media on March 16. Because I was credentialed for conclave coverage I was able to attend. It was held in the Paul VI Audience Hall just inside the Vatican (behind the building that houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.) I went with a former student, Father Dave Dwyer, C.S.P., and his colleague, Leno Rulli of the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS XM Radio.
We arrived at 9:30 a.m. for the 11 o’clock audience. We walked and walked and walked to join the already long line. The police finally allowed us to start moving through the metal detectors at 10:40. Media folks do not like to be kept waiting! But the wait allowed us to greet such people as Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who handles media for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Joe Zwilling who handles media for Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Also at the audience was David Dawson Vasquez, who is director of the CUAbroad program, and his wife, Susan Vasquez. She does translations from Italian and Spanish into English for the Vatican Information Service. Because of her position they were in the third row. We were toward the back. Fair enough. She has worked long hours these weeks. Something the Holy Father mentioned but which was not in the script!
|The pontiff shares his charm with reporters.|
The Holy Father charmed us all. In addition to a brief but insightful set of remarks, his off-the-cuff comments teased and pleased the audience.
He spoke of his choice of the name Francis. He said some people judged that since he is a Jesuit the name was for the great Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier. Others thought it was to honor St. Francis de Sales. Still others thought it was because of St. Francis of Assisi. The Pope said he chose the name on the spot in the Sistine Chapel.
In conclave, then Cardinal Bergoglio was seated next to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, former archbishop of San Paolo and former Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Once Cardinal Bergoglio realized that he had received two-thirds of the votes and was elected (even as they were still counting additional votes), Cardinal Hummes leaned over to congratulate the new Pope and said, “Don't forget the poor."
The Pope himself then thought of the wars still raging in the world today. He thought of St. Francis of Assisi as the saint of the poor and of peace. (Pace e bene in Italian, pax et bonum in Latin). That was it and so it came to pass. He also joked that he thought better of being named Pope Clement XV because Clement XIV, a Franciscan, had suppressed the Jesuits!
At the end of his remarks, the Pope met several of the people who work with Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., spokesperson for the Holy See. The press loved that "their own" were being honored. The one who received the largest applause from the crowd was the woman who had been on site when Benedict XVI resigned and who then explained to her colleagues what was happening. (Who said Latin was a dead language?)
At the end of the audience, the Holy Father usually gives his apostolic blessing. That day the Holy Father said he wanted to respect the fact that there were people of different religions present and judged it better that he impart a blessing in silence as a sign of respect.
The crowd was pleased, very pleased. But the papacy is not about crowd pleasing. It is about communicating who Christ is and how we understand the Gospel in our day and age. The exact opposite of today's event of mass media appeal is the film Mass Appeal starring Jack Lemmon as a pastor who was asked to mentor a deacon en route to the priesthood. The pastor spends his life being an uncertain trumpet for the good news.
His sermons are vacuous, entertaining exercises so as not to disturb the comfortable. He tells the priest in training that the collections are the Nielsen ratings. Up means popular (read: crowd pleasing) down means unpopular (read: the real Gospel). The two-edged sword of the Gospel had become a butter knife.
After today I judge that Francis will do what is needed to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. All the while being firm yet invitational.
Mass media appeal means more than meets the eye.