Fr. Lombardi: Communications should be in service of goodness, truth, beauty
By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Communication is a core activity of the Church. In fact, the Church has the mission of communicating the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In carrying out this mission, the Popes, the successors of St. Peter, have adopted different styles based on their personalities and the means available at their disposal.
In “Papi, Vaticano, Communicazione” (translated as “Popes, Vatican Communications”), Fr. Federico Lombardi has gathered his contributions to the important field of communications in the Church, based on personal experience and his long years of service as a Vatican communicator under three Popes: Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The Italian Jesuit Father was named program director at Vatican Radio in 1991 and subsequently, director-general in 2005. He was made general director of the Vatican Television Center (CTV) in 2001, a position he held till 2013. In July 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him director of the Vatican Press Office and he served in that capacity till 2016. He is currently the president of the Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI foundation.
Fr. Lombard explains that his latest publication is inspired by a desire to “give a witness of a spirit of service in communications” through “service to the Pope as a servant of the Church, of the People of God and of humankind” and he talks about how he adapts to the different Popes' styles of communication.
In service of unity, goodness, truth and beauty
The book, prefaced by the Italian journalist Ferruccio de Bortoli, contains a first part dedicated to the three Popes under whom Fr. Lombardi served. In the second part, the Jesuit priest reflects on his experience at the helm of Vatican Radio, CTV and the Holy See Press Office. The volume concludes with five “notes” by the author, in which, as director of Vatican Radio, he offers orientations on particular events.
In an interview with Vatican News, Fr. Lombardi says that “Papi, Vaticano, Communicazione” has the aim of communicating for unity: “to try to help people to understand one another, and to be in dialogue to build a future together.” This, he adds, is achieved by writing in the service of goodness, truth and beauty.
He explains that writing in service of the good demonstrates that in spite of some bad things that there are in the world, there is still a lot of good – some of it working in secret. Through the good, “God works in our time to open our eyes” so that we do not fall into despair. As regards the truth, he notes that even though words can be used in the interest of a person or a party, we have to witness through communication to the truth in order to help people find the right way in today’s world.
Writing in service of beauty – not material or corporal – but spiritual beauty, highlights the dignity of the human person and the vision of the spirit. In this sense, “our service in communications is a way to serve all of our sisters and brothers in the world, and also the message of the Gospel as something that saves the human person,” Fr. Lombardi says.
Three Popes, three styles of communication
Fr. Lombardi goes on to elaborate on the styles of communication of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
He describes Pope St. John Paul II as a “giant of communication” skilled at communicating with words and with gestures. He recalls in particular, the Polish Pope’s encounter with Mehmet Ali Ağca (the man behind the attempted assassination of the Pope in 1981), and the Pope’s symbolic gesture of placing a prayer in the Western Wall in Jerusalem in March 2000. He also highlights the “time of silence” during which the Pope communicated through his suffering and weakness caused by illness. Fr. Lombardi however points out that it would not be fair to compare his pontificate with others because Pope John Paul II’s was significantly longer.
Pope Benedict XVI, according to Fr. Lombardi, is more of a “man of words and writing”. A man of culture who expressed his thoughts and spirituality in an articulated manner, and in a “clear and ordered way of speaking and of thinking.”
As regards Pope Francis, Fr. Lombardi sees the Pope as “a man of proximity” whose strength of communication is in using “clear, short words and gestures to express his closeness to the people.”
Transitions between Popes
Fr. Lombardi’s long career as a communicator in the Church has given him the opportunity to witness transitions between Pontiffs. Responding to a question about the more significant moments in his lengthy career, he highlights that these moments of transition are very important because “the eyes of the world were concentrated on Rome and on the Church.”
At times of transition, “we have an incredible opportunity to explain and witness the Spirit with which the Church goes on in history,” he says, adding that the attention of an immense public provides the possibility to “give words of hope and of witness of the service of the Church for mankind.”
Communications in the Church
When asked about the evolution of communications technologies and the Church’s efforts to adapt to the fast pace of change, Fr. Lombardi reflects on his many years of experience as a communicator for the Church and notes that “the Church is always on the way” in keeping up with new technologies.
“We always have had something to learn, something to do better than in the past. And we have to adapt ourselves to the new technologies and languages of communications,” he added.
In the face of this, Fr. Lombardi highlights the task of the communicators and advises them to “see clearly what and why they communicate” before the instruments and the language of communication can change.