The Vatican’s radio station is celebrating its 80th anniversary — with a nod to its distinguished past but clearly focused on the digital future that lies ahead.
The station held a press conference at the Vatican Museums on Feb. 10 to mark the special occasion and offer a glimpse of eight decades of Vatican history through a new exhibit.
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Vatican City’s government, spoke of the many important moments since Pope Pius XI inaugurated the station on Feb. 12, 1931.
The cardinal remembered its function as a source of independent news during the Second World War and its services that connected families with their sons and fathers separated by the conflict.
During the Cold War, he said, the Church’s voice reached where others could not, bringing reliable information and hope.
He praised its history of uniting Catholics and all listeners from the farthest reaches of the planet with Rome and the Popes. Evangelizing and offering the Pope’s moral teaching to the world remains its mission today, he said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman and director of Vatican Radio, defined the radio station’s work as carrying out the “splendid mission” of bringing the Pope’s words to the people of the world.
It employs 355 people who produce programs in 45 languages. Fr. Lombardi mentioned that this likely makes Vatican Radio the radio station with the broadest reach in the world.
Its staff is dedicated to transmitting the Pope’s messages “effectively, in a clear and understandable language, and in such a way to reach so many people, to reach their minds, their hearts, possibly touch them,” he said.
For these reasons, the message must be produced in so many languages, tailored for the different cultural contexts and offered with the appropriate technology of the day.
They no longer limit their activities to strictly radio services. They also maintain a website, www.radiovaticana.org, in 38 languages. In recent years, the station has also established its presence on Twitter and YouTube. A new program called “Vatican TIC” aims to soon guide online viewers through papal events.
Msgr. Peter Brian Wells of the Vatican’s secretariat of state said it is important for the Church that the station maintains an open channel with the believers of the world, using every means technology permits.
He spoke of smart phones and iPads, podcasts and micro-blogging.
The Holy See, he said, is currently working on a platform to combine the efforts of its media services “to establish the permanent presence of the Holy See in the world of new media.”
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli announced in a January press conference at the Holy See that he hopes this new platform will be ready by Easter.
Radio forms an essential part of this mix of media services along with television and Internet and telecommunications services, explained Msgr. Wells.
“Vatican Radio must be the voice of the Church that contests those who say the Church is not capable of inner renewal, showing instead the tireless desire for purification expressed by her supreme pastor.”
It “needs to be the voice that promotes religious freedom in the world” and “the voice that calls for dialogue and harmony in a world that turns increasingly to hatred and violence to solve conflicts,” he added.
To do so, the bishop concluded, it must continue to implement new technologies “to be the engine of new forms of consciousness, of awareness: in other words, of a new culture.”
According to Fr. Lombardi, the station’s qualification as a “radio” provider is now insufficient.
He described it instead as “a great community of communicators and technicians at the service of the mission of the Holy Father, that ... seeks to use the best ways to communicate, in collaboration with all those who can contribute to this mission.”