Members of the DeSales community gathered in the DeSales University Center on January 23 for a town hall on communications as part of Heritage Week, sponsored by the Salesian Center for Faith and Culture. This year’s featured speaker was Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of the National Review Online and director of Catholic Voices.
The event was casual in tone; Lopez and the evening’s moderator Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS, director of the Salesian Center, sat in armchairs facing the audience and spoke about topics such as choosing which media to consume, how the Catholic faith is represented in the media and the current role that media plays in politics.
Lopez made frequent mention of Pope Francis, who delivered a message on World Communications Day—the same day as the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, and the same day as the town hall on communications.
In his message, Pope Francis stressed the importance of leaving room for hope in journalism and urged journalists and those involved in news media to report good news as well as bad. Lopez agreed, considering the hostile environment that news media and social media can create when discussing national politics.
“Pope Francis talks in his Communications Day message about the lens with which you view the world. There are some really different lenses with which we view the world, and as Christians the Gospel needs to be the lens,” said Lopez. “Now, are we always… engaging as the Gospel would suggest we do? Probably not, and I think you saw that during the election.”
Later, she referenced the pope’s message again, citing a need for caution about what kind of media we consume and how it will affect our spiritual lives.
“I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust,” said Pope Francis.
This could apply, Lopez said, not just to pay attention to how a particular news source makes us feel—especially if it’s angry or despairing—but to also pay attention to what kind of agenda reporters have when relating or even creating news.
“One of the great gifts, I think… [of] having journalists who are very open about where they’re coming from is that people can choose their filters,” said Lopez. “That has its positive and negative effects. You could get yourself into a place where you’re just in a bubble. On the other hand, you could be reading the New York Times and listening to Fox News, and now you have some sense of what the mainstream level of media is thinking.”
In order to teach lay people how to effectively represent the Catholic faith to the media, Lopez founded Catholic Voices, whose mission, according to their website, is “to put the Church’s case in the public square.”
“We started training… a mix of people who work in archdiocese and parishes and schools and things, who would already be sort of the likely Catholic on the street, who probably had, in some cases, talked to the media,” said Lopez. “If you’ve never given a thought about what you’re going to say to a reporter, it’s going to be trial and error when you first start, so to just be able to sit through some mock interviews and to realize, ‘Oh, I can actually talk about this’ [makes it] not as daunting in real life.”
Past speakers at the Town Hall on Communications have included John Allen Jr., senior editor at The Boston Globe, Rev. Peter John Cameron, OP, artistic director of the Blackfriars Repertory Theater, and Marnie Schulenburg ’06, actress on the soap opera “As the World Turns.”
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