Father Lombardi’s ‘Ten Commandments’ for Catholic communications

Ten“To communicate is to unify” is the first of the “Ten Words of Communication” that Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, described in a lecture given Nov. 24 at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.
Father Federico Lombardi was given an ‘honoris causa’ degree in social communication from the university, and in the lecture he held at ceremony he traced with passion the 25 years he has spent working in the Church’s communications, summing up all the teaching he had learned in Ten Commandments, which he called ‘Ten Messages.”
“There are people who think that conflict must be fed in order to make communication more dynamic. Let me stress that I am radically against this view; I hate and refuse this kind of communication. And this truly comes from my heart,” Father Lombardi said.
The first message is “communicating to unify,” and it is built on the background of the personal experience of Father Lombardi, who was appointed director of Vatican Radio in 1991, “on the day when the first bombs of the First Gulf War were lobbed.”
Father Lombardi confessed he was unaware of what to do, but that he soon learned that his job “was not so difficult,” since Vatican Radio is the “Pope’s Radio … and the pope was not silent about what was going on in the world.”
Commitment to peace is crucial for the communication of Vatican Radio, according to Father Lombardi. “Peace. Talking about peace. Continually and insistently. How many times during these years the popes have patiently and constantly guided us in speaking of peace!”
Father Lombardi’s second message is “to understand and preserve the value of the variety of cultures.” He recounted how after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a proposal to close the Eastern Languages section of Vatican Radio, since the Eastern Churches no longer needed such great support.
He was totally against the idea, he said, since “communication for the Church and for persons must accompany their life and historical situation, interpret their expectations and needs. If you really love people, you continue walking with them.”
This message is linked to the third, which “deals with focusing on minorities and on poor regions, which lack technical and economic possibilities.”
His Fourth Word regards transparency: “If your conscience is clear and you are objectively looking for truth, you can endure any situation.”
Father Lombardi’s Fifth Message is that “serving the church and a beloved pope can provide the needed motivation to achieve together — I insist, together, as a community — great enterprises, even in communication.”
He reflected on his experience covering the last year of St. John Paul II’s life, and the subsequent conclave of 2005.
The positive outcomes of the coverage let him understand that “if well prepared and motivated, everyone can produce great things,” considering that “we are talking about people, not about numbers, (but) about human resources.”
This communication enterprise included filming and covering the last acts of St. John Paul II in his sickness, and his suffering.
“I am absolutely convinced that it would not have been possible to cover with a camera and transmit to the world the image of the suffering Pope, with truth, discretion and respect, all at once, if the camera and the transmission had not been directed by a profound love for the person filmed,” Father Lombardi stressed.
And he concluded that “to understand and fully communicate the deepest message of one person, we should love him, love him very much” — this is the Sixth Message.
Father Lombardi then spoke about his experience as director of the Holy See press office, and of how much his work had been tried, especially in the cases of the clergy sex abuse scandal and of Vatican finances.
On the side of sex abuse scandal, Father Lombardi reminded that “Benedict XVI had spoken several times about the path of purification of the Church regarding these horrible signs of the presence of evil within herself.”
“Being on the frontline as a communicator permits and requires one to be involved in a very deep way in this path, and to take part in it trying to pay with your own personal suffering a little contribution to the huge price the church has to pay off it,” Father Lombardi confessed.
And he stressed that the Seventh Message is “being ready, in solidarity with the community of the Church, to pay the often painful price of growing up in truth.”
On the finances side, Father Lombardi recounted how the communication strategy developed, also thanks to an external communication firm specialized in that kind of communication, because “it is right to observe that the press office, with the current resources, is not able to manage by itself the communication of technically complex issues and needs to continually integrate its service.”
Father Lombardi takes from the financial issue the Eight Message: “We must consider normal being able to honestly account of the administrative and juridical issues of our institutions. This is part of the church’s credibility.”
The ninth message, then, is that of “living and securing the specific nature of being a pilgrim church, and reporting about it so that this may be shared, not denaturalized,” since “the mission of the church, and communication, are strictly linked because of their nature.”
“This is what I am intensely living during this Pontificate, that was able to put into question many aspects of our life and of our work. This is my Tenth and Last Message.”

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