It is late afternoon on a day that is far from over for Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ.
Yet he has made time to welcome a group of Franciscan communicators who can’t quite believe their good fortune. As part of their ESC gathering, they are sitting down in Rome with Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, to talk about his work for Pope Francis. Among the guests is Fr. Joseph Magro, the OFM Communications Director who arranged the meeting.
Lombardi greets visitors in the press room of Vatican Radio, where rows of chairs for media personnel face a mural-sized portrait of popes from recent memory. The unfamiliar face in the painting is that of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor who launched Vatican Radio as a short-wave station in 1931 with a message from Pope Pius XI. Nowadays its programming is beamed around the world in 45 languages.
“Can we make a circle?” Lombardi suggests, pulling chairs into an informal arrangement. “The Vatican has a system of communications that is complex.” That’s an understatement. Lombardi’s office – he is the director of both Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center – is occupied by people from 59 countries speaking 40 languages. “There are 600 journalists accredited for the written press” to cover the Vatican; thousands show up for special events. “Not all of them come every day; they receive communications from us about what happens. We give press conferences, briefings for journalists.”
Appointed in 2006 by Pope Benedict, 72-year-old Lombardi is identified in news stories as Vatican spokesman or Director of the Press Office. “Most of my life has been dedicated to communications. I like to be challenged,” says Lombardi, a native Italian who is familiar with six languages. On call around the clock, he is often the point person for reports that require a response.
Top, Federico Lombardi with ESC communicators Sept. 9; above, with Pope Francis and journalists on a flight from Albania, Sept. 21.
FROM VATICAN RADIO
Vatican Radio is the centerpiece of communications. In these days of satellites and Internet, “It still works as a short-wave radio station in some regions of the world.” L’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper of the Holy See, chronicles the comings, goings and teachings of the pope. The Television Center, founded in 1983 and part of the Holy See family since 1996, covers the pope’s activities – including his travels – and events within the Apostolic See. “We collaborate rather well,” Lombardi says of the Vatican media. “I think we are rather able.”
Michael Surufka of ABVM Province snaps a souvenir photo.
Lombardi explains his role.
Lombardi with ESC communicators.
He joined Vatican Radio 24 years ago, long before Facebook and Twitter. “If used well it helps to create an atmosphere of communications,” he says of social media. “I came here with no computer,” he adds, making the pecking motion associated with typewriters. “The world has changed very much. We are always learning how to do better. I am reflecting now on the use of social media during the Synod,” a reference to the Oct. 5-19 Extraordinary Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis.
“Do you brief him?” a guest asks, meaning, is the pope prepped for interviews? Although Lombardi outlines probable questions, “I have never said to the pope what he has to say. The pope speaks spontaneously. He knows what is better to say or not.” Overall, “We feel the atmosphere is more friendly; the attitude of the press in general is more positive than in the past.”
When Francis visited Korea in August, “I have said to him, ‘Please, there will surely be some questions that will be posed; it will be good if you prepare for it.’” The pope responded, “No, I don’t need to have questions before; they can ask what they want.” The result was candid conversations with the press that were “totally improvised,” according to Lombardi.
As we saw the day he was elected, “Pope Francis has a charism for direct and immediate and spontaneous communication,” Lombardi says. “You feel immediately the direct presence of him to you without distance. He comes to you in a personal encounter and is very present. He embraces children. If someone says, ‘Please, can I do a selfie?’ he says, ‘You can do.’ This is not something constructed of strategy. This is his way to be. This gift is something concrete and profound, a profound message for all.”
For Lombardi, the election of fellow Jesuit Francis was “an incredible surprise. The first thing I saw was the choice of name. For me it was an act of incredible courage to take the name of Francesco; no one had done [it]. It is something historical, a substantial message” embraced by the world in general and Franciscans in particular.
“Obviously he [the pope] is a very good Jesuit,” says a friar in the communications group. “We think he’s a very good Franciscan, a better Franciscan than many of ours.” When the laughter subsides, Lombardi sounds intrigued. “This is very interesting,” he says, filing it away for future reference.
Asked how his life has been impacted by Francis, Lombardi considers this. “My life has always been and continues to be a life of service,” he says. The satisfaction comes “in taking part in a new wave of the presence of the spirit of evangelization in the world today with hope and enthusiasm and creativity in the sense of something new that can happen.” Obviously, “Pope Francis has brought a great dynamic in this world, has great popularity. Many people desire to see him,” including the media who clamor for comments.
After an hour and a half – longer than anyone expected – Lombardi politely excuses himself. In the coming weeks, he explains, “I will work on the next Synod.” And what might we expect from that? “No one of us knows what really will come new, neither the pope nor you nor I.”
He lingers briefly for photos, shakes hands all around, then moves briskly on to the next task in a very demanding day.
BY HENRY BECK, OFM
Jonny Baker, from Church Mission Society in London, and Steven Leach, Anglican seminarian, Winchester, England.
Craig Gould, Director of Catholics on Call, and Birgit Oberhofer, Assistant Director of Catholics on Call, at CTU.
The format was familiar – “Theology on Tap” – but the conversation revolved around a trending concept, the “selfie”. At the first gathering of St. Clement Parish’s Young Adult Ministry Group, Sept. 19 at Meiners Café in St. Bernard, Ohio, Fr. Richard Goodin talked about “The Selfie: Self-Image, Self-Worth and God”. The evening was billed as an opportunity for “good company, interesting voices and lively conversation”, all of which proved true, says Richard, who had hoped to help launch the group before he leaves for his ministry in Jamaica. Initially, he says, “The object is to have a core group of ‘pseudo leaders’ who will minister to others,” inspiring those in the 19-39-year-old age range to better understand and practice their faith. Richard and co-animator Sarah Pounder dubbed the group “Y.A.C.H.T.”, Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together.
A good number of us from the “Catholics on Call” Partners Conference at CTU traveled to the Felician Sisters’ Center in Chicago last Friday for the start of the “Religious Formation Conference 60th Anniversary Gathering.”
Conference members spoke of the present and future in terms of looking to new ways to help prepare all in the Church to live out our common call to “witness to the Gospel” as religious, single, and married persons in the Church. We also talked about how we might collaborate more with one another as religious, single, and married persons in the Church. We were greatly aided in these reflections by presentations made by Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, PhD, and Sr. Caroljean Willie, SC, PhD.
Dr. Gaillardetz’s theme of “From Center to Periphery: Relocating the Prophetic Witness of Religious Life” challenged us to move away from the “center” as “heroic center,” as “power center,” and as “obedient center.” In letting go of the “temptations” around these models to stay there, he invited us to be re-energized by the common call to all the baptized to proclaim the Gospel with our lives. Sr. Caroljean, who is completing an appointment as NGO representative for the Sisters of Charity at the United Nations, shared a rich visual presentation of where religious are involved in ground-breaking projects around the world.
This program will be repeated Oct. 10-11 in Kansas City, Kansas, and Oct. 17-18 in San Antonio, Texas. I encourage other friars to participate. Visit https://www.relforcon.org/2014-programsﾠfor information.
– Henry Beck, OFM
Richard and the staff of St. Anthony’s Kitchen during his year in Jamaica.
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