Catholic Media Conventions are made up of long days filled with a ton of varied activities: plenary sessions, panel presentations, workshops, sales and marketing opportunities, networking, coffee breaks, [singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]more networking, more coffee breaks, meals, sharing of ideas and realizing that we are not alone in our efforts to serve the truth and tell the good news of Christ to the Church and to the world around us.
How well I remember the International Catholic Media Convention that I co-hosted with Joe Sinasac, then editor of the Catholic Register (now head of the English language section of Novalis Publishing in Canada) three years ago in Toronto! We had over 500 people in attendance from all over North America and also from Rome. Many friendships, partnerships and relationships were born during that great convention in downtown Toronto. So many delegates at this year’s convention in Pittsburgh have shared with me their memories of the 2008 Toronto convention.
A highlight of these conventions is the liturgy that concludes each day. This evening we were bused from the downtown convention hotel to Pittsburgh’s stunning Cathedral of St. Paul for the 100th Anniversary Mass of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, native and former bishop of Pittsburgh, now Archbishop of Washington, DC, (and Salt + Light media star), presided and preached at the beautifully prepared liturgy. [singlepic id=18 w=320 h=240 float=left]Cardinal Wuerl, a friend to all of us at Salt + Light Television, gave one of his stellar homilies. His characteristic thoughtfulness, eloquent delivery, and ability to affirm and encourage the audience were evident this evening. He reminded us that those involved in the crucial work of church communications are essentially about the the work of the New Evangelization. Speaking from Thursday’s Gospel reading, Wuerl invited the large gathering of journalists and media folks to root their lives and work in Christ, the sure foundation of our faith. The Cardinal invited us not to be afraid of using every means possible to get our message across. He said that Blessed John Paul II’s legacy to us is the generation of young people who understand the power of the new media for the work of the New Evangelization.
The voice of Christmas
Following Mass, we were then bused to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh for the centennial anniversary banquet of the Catholic Press Association. It was a gala evening but not without deep emotion and profound gratitude because of the presence of a second man with a red hat: His Eminence John Cardinal Foley.
Cardinal Foley had to retire from his work at the Vatican in early February 2011 due to his battle with leukemia. Moving back to his native Philadelphia in February, he has been confined to a nursing care facility for priests in his home Archdiocese. Tonight was the first time he ventured forth from Philly’s Villa St. Joseph to make an appearance at the CPA celebrations. It’s hard to describe the emotion in the great music hall of the Carnegie Museum as several hundred Catholic journalists, priests, bishops, and Washington’s Archbishop, welcomed Cardinal Foley “home” to a Catholic Media Convention with two sustained, standing ovations. I had the privilege of sitting at table with both Cardinals Foley and Wuerl along with two Monsignor friends and colleagues – Owen Campion of Our Sunday Visitor fame and Paul Tighe from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican and Catholic journalists from Portland, Oregon.
[singlepic id=19 w=320 h=240 float=right]Cardinal Foley was first addressed by outgoing CPA president Penny Weigert and then introduced by a deeply moved former CPA president Bob Zyskowski and personal friend of the Cardinal. The man known as “the voice of Christmas” for 25 years took the floor, this time sitting in a chair, and kept us laughing, smiling, and riveted to his every scripted and non-scripted word. In typical Foley fashion, he made fun of himself and sprinkled his serious media talk with good humor and personal anecdotes. He thanked Bob for canonizing him when he was still alive! He showed off his spiffy Cardinal robes, telling us: “these were the gifts you folks gave me when I got the red hat three years ago!” He didn’t focus on his own personal, obvious diminishment and struggle with aggressive leukemia, but praised the outstanding work of the Catholic News Service (CNS) and invited us to look around the room to see the power of good that is present in so many Catholic journalists and communicators.
[singlepic id=20 w=320 h=240 float=right]Though no one would dare utter the words, tonight was a farewell of sorts. Cardinal Foley is preparing to take leave of us and return to the house of the Father. There were few dry eyes in the cavernous room, not because of an abundance of humorous stories, but due to the scene unfolding before our very eyes.
A long friendship
Cardinal John Foley has been a good friend since I first met him in 1999 when I was named to head World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. His characteristic kindness, warmth, humanity, encouragement and thoughtfulness have been his hallmarks over the past twelve years of a wonderful friendship. As then-Archbishop and president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, he led me through the labyrinth of Vatican communications departments. He opened countless doors in the Vatican during those first rounds of meetings in 2000 as we prepared for World Youth Day 2002. He stressed the importance (and necessity) of patience with Rome! He always brought out the best in people and never once did I hear him speak badly of anyone, even those who were not very kind to him. Foley was the human face of the Church to countless ‘secular’ journalists for decades. While some may have questioned the mission and effectiveness of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications under his long, beretta-less tenure as its president, they often missed the most important aspect of Foley’s leadership of that Pontifical Council: presenting to the outside world a Church with a human face. For many throughout the world, the human faces and voices were and remain those of John Paul II and John Foley.
[singlepic id=22 w=320 h=240 float=left]Cardinal Foley is notorious for writing thank you notes or encouraging messages. I have received over a dozen messages from him these past twelve years. In fact the first message I received when I was appointed consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009 was from none other than the President emeritus of the Council: John Foley.
After his memorable visit to our Salt + Light Broadcast Centre in Toronto during the 2008 Catholic Media Convention, I received not one, but two messages of thanks! The second one told me that he forgot to thank my secretary and the young adults working with me, for their kindness to him in Toronto. (I had sent two of our staff to meet him at the airport when he arrived in Toronto in 2008. When they were delayed in arriving at the hotel, I presumed something had gone wrong with the flight. I was wrong. The then-Archbishop took the two out for hot chocolate and regaled them with Foley stories.)
Clear witness to the faith
Tonight I did some reflecting when I returned to my hotel room about these two distinguished princes of the Church that we encountered Thursday afternoon and evening. The word ‘cardinal’ is derived from two early Latin terms, cardo and cardinis. For over three hundred years, the English translation has rendered these two words as “hinge,” to signify that important device that serves as a juncture for two opposing forces and that affords harmony as a result. As a hinge permits a door to hang easily upon a framed portal, so too the cardinals, it was believed, facilitated an easy relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. The color red of the Cardinal’s robes symbolizes the blood shed by martyrs and witnesses for the faith. Giving public, clear witness to the faith lies at the heart of the Cardinal’s mission.
Many of us traveled to Pittsburgh this week to network with Catholic journalists and Catholic media types from all over North America and even from Rome. Perhaps we came to upgrade our work and knowledge about Catholic journalism and media. But in the midst of a busy convention, in Pittsburgh’s Cathedral and again in the historic Carnegie Museum of Natural History Thursday evening, we discovered the human face of a big Church in a good shepherd and articulate teacher from Washington, and a pastor and warrior from the Vatican, whose deep “Christmas voice” is still able to make his audiences smile, laugh, and cry, and who never lost the common touch.
Donald Wuerl and John Foley may have fancy ecclesiastical titles. But they are first and foremost gentlemen of the Church. Their good, exemplary lives certainly afford and facilitate harmony and peace, and help us to deepen and even heal our relationships with Christ and the Church. They show us how to give a clear, public witness to the faith – the quintessential mission of a Cardinal and of every Christian.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
CPA photos: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec; Cardinal Wuerl: CNS photo/Stephen Brashear