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Fr. Lombardi’s Address to the Toronto Catholic Business Leaders’ Breakfast

Matthew Harrison

Friday, May 30, 2008

[The following is Fr. Lombardi's Address to the Toronto Catholic Business Leaders' Breakfast, given on Friday, May 30th. Fr. Rosica's introduction is at the bottom of the document.]
Your Grace, Archbishop Collins,
Reverend Fathers,
Dear Friends,
I am delighted to be here in Toronto and have this opportunity to meet you for this Mass and breakfast for Catholic Business Leaders of the Archdiocese of Toronto. I applaud the efforts of your Archbishop and his collaborators, Fathers Schner and Rosica, for organizing these important gatherings. It is an honor to be one of your guest speakers!
Six years ago I had the privilege and pleasure of being in this very city for World Youth Day 2002. I cherish the memories of those blessed days, lived with Pope John Paul II, tens of thousands of young people, and so many of you who donated your time, talent and treasure to that wonderful event.
As you know I wear several hats in the Church and in the Society of Jesus! In my role as Director of the Holy See Press Office, I work closely with the Holy Father and the Curia. I also oversee two important organs of communications of the Holy See: Vatican Television and Vatican Radio.
Today I would like to share with you some personal reflections on my work in the area of communications at the Vatican. In reflecting aloud with you today, I hope to encourage you in your own important work at the service of the Church and the truth.
Ecumenical relationships with other Christians
One of the great undertakings recent Popes have pursued with regards to unity and dialogue in today’s world is that of ecumenism and relationships with other religions and cultures.
I wish to comment on these undertakings, put into effect by the current pontiff. Since his first speech in the Sistine Chapel on the morning following his election, Benedict XVI clearly stated that ecumenism – the search for unity with other Christian denominations – is one of the greatest priorities of his pontificate, one that he will carry on in the footsteps of his predecessor.
The apostolic voyage to Istanbul, which included the visit with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, has thus far been the most evident sign of this ecumenical pursuit. As head of communications I wish to remind you that in these such occasions we have experienced exceptional collaboration with the communications department of the orthodox Patriarchy, whose various members came from America.
For example, all the celebrations including the encounter between the Pope and the Patriarch were internationally broadcast from the Centro Televisivo Vaticano with live commentary in six different languages. The live commentary was a result of the joint effort between the editors of Radio Vaticana, several priests and a team of orthodox experts who came to Rome from various parts of the world for the very purpose of this occasion. The orthodox communities in America and other parts of the world, including Australia, have been able to follow the events via various catholic television networks such as EWTN in America, and Salt and Light Television in Canada, among others. I ask that you forgive me for this specific mention but it seems to me a perfect example of how we can put social communications to the service of ecumenism.
For years, CTV and Radio Vaticana have established intense and continuous collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Numerous are the broadcasts of the visits to Rome by patriarchs and important delegations of Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, etc, and have been offered free of charge to their respective national networks.
Substantial ecumenism is achieved by the Pope and his collaborators, while we, on the other hand, contribute to making it seen, felt and heard. Among other examples of the ecumenical progress of our times, I would like to recall the visits to Rome by the archbishop of all of Greece, Christodoulos – now deceased - and of the archbishop of Cyprus. These visits have been very significant, because it was a first for these orthodox Churches. Other visits, such as the most recent one on behalf of Catholicos of Armenia, Karekin II, confirm the good relationships already established by the preceding pontificate.
An ecumenical relationship with the Eastern Church that remains problematic to this day is the one with the Patriarch of Russia. In spite of the difficulties, there are however many blossoming relationships from which we can cultivate the hope that one day soon we will arrive to an encounter of the highest level, even if for the time being any forecast of this kind is clearly premature. In this regard, social communications can also carry out its service.
A small sign of progress on the Russian front, in which I personally have been involved, is the recent airing of an hour length documentary on Pope Benedict XVI on a national Television channel. This documentary was a co-production between orthodox and Catholics, and contained a Russian message pronounced by the Pope himself for the Russian people. It was recorded at an earlier time in our studios for this very purpose. Naturally, a production of this kind was an “absolute first”, and it could not have happened without the consent of the orthodox Patriarch of Moscow. Therefore it is considered a very positive sign.
The relationships with the Christian denominations originating from the Reform are meaningful events and encounters, even if the distance from a doctrinal and ecclesial point of view is greater than that with the non-catholic Oriental Churches. Having remained in close contact with the developments and problems of modern western culture, these denominations have experienced more than anyone the challenges and influences of relativism and individualism, which Pope Benedict characterized as serious risks that bring about negative consequences for ecumenism as well.
It’s sufficient to think of the various attitudes with regards to moral problems. Benedict XVI is not afraid to assert that ecumenical engagement must be verified on the basis of the essential contents of the Christian faith, which - like “ancient symbols” or “formulas of faith” - constitute the foundations of Christian unity. In this sense, a very important and very “Ratzingerian” speech during the apostolic trip to America, perhaps barely noticed, was exactly that in the ecumenical encounter.
The Pope said: “Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.” Otherwise, everyone will think him or herself more and more capable of following their own conscience and choose for themselves the community that best satisfies their personal preferences. But this is the opposite path way to unity: it is the path of fragmentation and unending dispersion.
The relationships with other religions
Regarding the relationships with other religions, many have questioned if, after the great progress of the pontificate of John Paul II (ie. the encounter in Assisi of the world’s religious leaders), the new pontificate is taking a different direction, one that is perhaps less open to dialogue. I think not, but surely Benedict XVI wishes for a sincere dialogue, one that does not hide the true problems.
Concerning the relationship with Judaism, Benedict XVI has from the beginning taken meaningful action, not only in receiving illustrious visitors, but above all, in his visit to the Synagogue of Cologne, to the extermination camp of Auschwitz, to the memorial of the Jewish victims of Nazism in Vienna, and most recently, to one of the great Synagogues of New York.
In light of these important public actions, the disputes on the formulation of a specific prayer in a particular form of celebration of the Holy Friday liturgy, now hardly used by anyone, appear marginal, even if they unveil an ongoing sensitivity among many of our Hebrew brothers and sisters, which requires that we always remain aware, attentive and respectful.
I like to recall that in his 24 year pontificate, John Paul II visited one synagogue, the synagogue of Rome, while Benedict XVI in three years has already visited two: therefore he is indeed making progress on the road paved by his predecessor. This is also true for mosques: John Paul II visited one after 20 years of pontificate; Benedict has already visited one after a year and a half.
It goes without saying that the relationship with Islam underwent a more difficult route via the Regensburg address and the discussions that followed. Without revisiting the debate over the famous quote of the Byzantine Emperor, it is obvious that the Pope’s intention was to clearly express his idea that every authentic religious view must refute violence and use reason when thinking of God and our relationship with Him; only in this way can reason preserve itself respectful both to God and to the dignity of the human person. This speech generated various Muslim responses to the Pope’s position as well as an intense reflection within the Muslim world.
The Monarch of Saudi Arabia came to Rome to visit the Pope and to express his desire for unity in the path to peace between the great world religions; including the Christians and the Jews. This reflection is to be considered a positive and promising one considering the remaining difficulties of this dialogue, a dialogue that must confront the true problems, such as those concerning the respect of rights and the person both in Christianity and in Islam.
Over one hundred wise Muslims of various views have established common positions, with which to confront Christians and Jews in light of the common responsibility to bring peace to humanity. Surely, this is a promising novelty.
From my perspective, which is that of the media, I have seen how on the occasion of the Monarch’s visit to Rome, an official Saudi Arabian Television station interviewed me for a long time in order to better educate the public of Arabia on the Vatican. That same official Television station has recently returned to interview me again in order to further explore the themes of dialogue and collaboration of all religions in formulating the path to peace. These are promising signs.
At the same time, the Pope knows how to be coherent and firm on his positions. For example, on the Easter Vigil in Saint Peters, he himself administered the sacrament of baptism to a famous Egyptian journalist, Magdi Allam, of Muslim origin. That was truly a brave act, one that affirmed the right to religious freedom and conversion to Christianity.
Even if I had to explain that this baptism does not signify that the Pope shares all of Magdi Allam’s ideas even those regarding the relationship with Islam - some of which are controversial – it cannot be denied that this was an important public act in supporting the right to religious freedom. This makes it clear that the Pope desires dialogue with Islam to move forward, but not to the extent of sacrificing essential principles in the process.
Dialogue with the people of the world
Finally, I would like to recall another important aspect of the dialogue, one which the Church - and the whole world – is closely following: the one with China. The Holy Father has shown through his “Letter to Chinese Catholics” how much his thought and prayers were directed to China in the previous year.
In the document, he explicitly manifested the desire of a normalization of the relationships with Chinese authorities in order to guarantee the Church in China a serene life of freedom and extend to her the friendship of the universal catholic Church and its dedication to peace and the integral good of the human family. Just last Saturday, on May 24, the world celebrated the day of prayer for the Church in China established by the Pope in his letter.
It is not my job, nor is it my duty to speak here of the goings-on between the authorities of the Holy See and the representatives of the Chinese Government. But I can speak of a recent episode that involved social communications and has become a positive and encouraging sign of hope. It concerns a grand Concert that recently occurred in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican on behalf of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing and the Opera of Shanghai.
Present were the Pope, many authorities of the Roman Curia and various Chinese personalities, in particular Mrs. Deng Rong, daughter of the famous leader Deng Xiao Ping, and representatives of the Government of Beijing such as the Ambassador of China in Italy.
It cannot be ignored that this event, beyond its cultural significance, represented an important sign of good relationship and friendship. The Chinese Orchestra chose to perform an important piece, both western and religious; the Requiem of Mozart and also a short, beautiful and popular Chinese song: Jasmin Flowers.
Up until a few years ago it would have been unthinkable that a Chinese orchestra would perform a western and religious piece in an international venue. The Pope attended the concert and gave a short but meaningful speech on art as a vessel of dialogue between peoples and cultures, recalling with affection all Chinese Catholics.
The entire concert was broadcast live from the Centro Televisivo Vaticano, Vatican Radio and repeated on Phoenix TV, the most watched independent Chinese television station both locally and abroad. Following Government directions- the station also reserved a three-hour time slot for Vatican specials.
We at the Vatican have enjoyed exceptional collaboration with the Chinese organization; everyone appeared enthusiastic about this initiative and very much aware of its historical significance. Since I was able to send a Chinese translation of the Holy Father’s speech ahead of time, the Pope was able, for the first time, to speak directly to a huge number of Chinese.
Unfortunately, the great tragedy of the earthquake in Sichuan occurred in the following days. The Pope publicly manifested his sympathy and sorrow, and the Chinese ambassador to Rome shared with me that the Pope’s words had a wide impact throughout the nation. The Pope is no longer a stranger to the Chinese people, but a great personality surrounded by attention and respect.
Furthermore, gradual steps in the normalization of the relationship between the Holy See and Vietnam are currently taking place and being followed by China with great interest. Anticipation surrounding the events of the Olympic Games encourages the opening of China to the rest of the world. Being aware of the fact that such openings have often been followed by regress and disappointment, it cannot be denied that this moment in time marks a concrete sign of hope.
In the vast and diverse range of relationships of the Holy See and the universal Church with other Christian denominations, other religious faiths, nations and cultures, social dialogue carries an important role. It is with deep emotion that today I can speak of having played a role in the first two appearances of Pope Benedict XVI on both Russian and Chinese television networks.
In all these things, the media institutions of the Holy See play an important role, but collaboration within the universal Church is essential in the spread of information and ideas. No one in the Church community exists and operates alone.
Your friendship and your encouragement are essential to the effectiveness of our service.
Thank you and may God bless you all!
Federico Lombardi, S.J.
Introduction by Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
of Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J.
Catholic Business Leaders’ Breakfast
May 30, 2008
Dear Friends,
If you have ever taken part in a Vatican ceremony, one of the striking aspects is the various hats and garments worn by the key players in such events. Outsiders peering into such ceremonies frequently comment on the external elements as garments, robes, vestments, colors, rank, dignity and yes, they are often intigued by the different hats seen at Church events and ceremonies!
Three years ago during the widely televised ceremonies surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I heard it said very often in the corridors and newsrooms of the major networks of this country: “Those Catholics are really into hats.”
Today we have the opportunity to reflect not on the external realities or the color of one particular head covering, nor the theological, ecclesiological or historical significance of a particulat hat, but on a man of the church who wears many hats of service at the same time - Father Federico Lombardi of the Society of Jesus.
He has taught us how to wear the many hats of ecclesial service with humility, joy, dignity and humour. And today, on top of the many hats he already wears in the Church -- at Vatican Television, Vatican Radio, the Holy See Press Office, the Jesuit Curia, another was added this past Tuesday: that of Doctor, Honoris Causa of Regis College, the Jesuit Theological Faculty in the Univeristy of Toronto.
Fr. Lombardi has worked in the world of Catholic journalism and communications for over 30 years. I have had the privelege and pleasure, since 1999, to work with this great man on various Vatican events and projects, including our little Canadian event of 2002 and the greatest event in television history in 2005. I have learned much from him and his gentle, quiet ways, his love for the church and his ability to multi-task with such serenity.
Please welcome Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

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