Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Federico Lombardi SJ

Last night I attended a special Mass organised by the Catholic Communications Network to mark World Communications Day. It was presided over by Bishop John Arnold and there were quite a few journalists present. Also concelebrating was Fr Federico Lombardi SJ the papal press officer who later gave a lecture on his work. The lecture took place at Allen Hall and I was impressed by the number of people who attended. In the questions that followed a number of journalists asked about controversies to which Fr Lombardi has himself referred in the course of his talk (Regensburg, Aids, Bishop Williamson). While acknowledging that these had been negative experiences, Fr Lombardi did say that they had in each case occasioned a more profound dialogue with the interested parties. The Church had, as a result of these PR 'disasters', been able to communicate its message more effectively to men of good will. As a result there was now a greater understanding between the Church and some Islamic scholars and Jewish representatives, and a more honest debate with the scientific world.
Lombardi's critique of communications seemed to be according to the 'action, reaction, synthesis' model. He clearly has been pro-active in engaging the new media, particularly setting up the You Tube channel. I was, however, left with a niggle that something was missing. It is good for us to be up to date with technology but these channels are simply tools for us to use in communicating. I wondered whether there is also a need to update our model. In secular life communication offices no longer simply kick-in reactively. They are now part of the presentation of the message. To a certain extent they make the news, or at least determine how it will be packaged. I couldn't help feeling that Navarro Valls possibly understood this better, as a lay man who is a journalist, than his charming and illustrious successor.
James Roberts, who formerly worked for the Independent, and now works for the Catholic press asked whether Lombardi's work would be facilitated if the local Church weres were more pro-active in presenting the challenge of the faith to the media. Ruth Gledhill from the Times asked whether the Holy Father had any plans to visit England. The answer, given with wonderful Italian flourish, boiled down to: not yet!

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