MADRID -- For the past week I have been taking part in the Vatican's first World Congress of Catholic television networks here in Spain, along with two other colleagues from Canada's Salt and Light Television Network. Also attending from Canada is our colleague Bill Roberts, head of Canada's Vision Television. In the works for many years, this congress was a long-held dream of Pope John Paul II.
Last Monday evening, delegates were officially welcomed by the president of the region of Madrid in one of the Spanish capital's governmental palaces. I had forgotten that Spaniards are accustomed to late-night receptions, and at an hour when I usually prepare to go to sleep, Spaniards are just sitting down at table. Needless to say, the week was one of many long days - and nights!
It has been a very positive experience to discover the growing global reality of religious and Catholic television broadcasting. The first great surprise was to learn that there are 2,000 Catholic TV networks in the world today! Participation in this congress was limited (due to space) to 300 delegates from 50 countries, five continents, representing 48 Catholic networks.
A large number of the delegates represent South America, Africa and Asia. Sharing meals and coffee breaks with Catholic producers and directors from Burkina Faso, Taiwan, Vietnam, Chile, Colombia and the five Catholic TV networks in Brazil offered some unique insights into the challenges that Catholics and Christians face in each country.
The aim of the meeting was to reflect upon the nature of television and study the opportunities it offers the Church. We also heard much about building bridges with the secular media in each country.
In his personal message to the congress, Pope Benedict XVI note that "no matter how large or small these organizations may be, it is evident that they are making great efforts to accomplish their mission to communicate the Gospel and its values actively and efficiently, utilizing the audio-visual techniques of our time."
Central to Benedict's message was the fact that the Church no longer questions whether to use the communications media, but rather, how to do so in order to better accomplish and more faithfully fulfill Christ's missionary mandate.
THINKING OF JOHN PAUL
On Thursday morning, I addressed the assembly about our network, part of the legacy of World Youth Day 2002 in our own country. It was a privilege to share the ways in which Canadian television and media covered the great event in Toronto nearly five years ago. I could not help but think of Pope John Paul II.
Throughout his nearly 27-year pontificate, John Paul taught us that communication is power. He knew how to use television and to open all of his public life to media coverage, but he never sought to manipulate television; he respected television professionals.
He told us to use media power wisely. Prudently get our message out and it will have a shot at bearing fruit, despite obstacles. Hiding our message will do no one any good, after all.