Pope John Paul II is often referred to as “the people’s pope” because of his ability to connect with people at all levels and from all walks of life. He has also been called “the pilgrim’s pope” because his extensive and intense travel schedule resulted in him being the most traveled pope in Church history.
But I like to think of Pope John Paul as “the media pope.” Whether it was his excellent summaries on the state of the media offered in his World Communications Day writings, his other documents on media usage and evangelization, or his deep understanding of the importance of the mass media and its connection to shaping and influencing culture, he had a profound understanding regarding the role of the media in our ever-changing world. That’s why I know the first-ever Vatican-sponsored meeting of bloggers and Church representatives taking place in Rome the day after his beatification would indeed make him proud.
Church officials hope the meeting will foster what they refer to as “informal exchange and contact.” The idea, according to an April 7 press release, is to “allow dialogue between bloggers and Church representatives, to listen to the experience of those who are actively involved in this arena, and to achieve a great understanding of the needs of that community.”
The gathering sounds like something the late pontiff might have envisioned when he sat down to write “The Rapid Development,” the apostolic letter released just a few months before his April 2, 2005, death. The letter dealt with — you guessed it — the rapid development of media technology, primarily the Internet.
How fitting is it then that the Church is opening the doors wide to bloggers who will be in Rome for the historic event this month.
Of course, as he did many other times in discussions or discourses on the media, Pope John Paul, in “The Rapid Development,” called for a sincere effort on the part of media professionals, both Catholic and secular, to apply a good dose of media ethics to their work. He said Catholic journalists and others in the media had to learn how to use the media effectively and fairly to promote truth and goodness.
He would no doubt have an awful lot to say to us about how, in many ways, the Internet has become too much of a dominant force in people’s lives. He would be concerned about Internet addictions, including the rise of addictions to Internet porn. He would continue to encourage parents to be involved in their children’s media choices and usage. But despite all the bad stuff online and on the air, he, as our current pope is doing, would encourage us to stay the course and not let the darkness drown out the light that can be spread by proper use of these media opportunities. In “The Rapid Development” he used one of his most popular phrases, the same phrase he used when he began his pontificate in 1978. He encouraged Catholics, both religious and laity, to embrace new technology and to “be not afraid” of what the technology has to offer.
“Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank among the marvelous things — inter mirifica — which God has placed at our disposal to dis-cover, to use, to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children of his eternal Kingdom” (No. 14).
The Vatican meeting of bloggers is a fine tribute to a pope — the “media pope” — who wanted us to use everything at our disposal to communicate the saving message of the greatest communicator of them all, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.