Use media to spread Gospel, Catholic Voices head says

Kathryn Jean Lopez Credit Matthew Rarey CNA CNA US Catholic News 10 11 12 Kathryn Jean Lopez. | Matthew Rarey/CNA.

Catholics should see the secular media as an opportunity to evangelize and more effectively reach "people who need heroes and need the Gospel," said the head of a Catholic communications organization.

"Look to media as an apostolic opportunity. Call reporters, be their friends. Let them in on the Gospel," said Kathryn Jean Lopez, director of Catholic Voices USA. "You don't have to agree with everything they say or get them converted on day one. Have some patience. Respect their freedom. Share the truth. Be for real."

"I know it is remarkably tempting to complain about the media, to see what is wrong. But oftentimes the coverage is hostile because hosts, reporters, producers, don't know about Catholicism, they may know that bad experience, or their bad catechesis, or a caricature," she said.

Lopez's comments came Aug. 3 at the 2013 Napa Institute Conference in Napa, Calif. The annual conference brings together Catholic leaders from around the country – including bishops, religious, educators and laypeople – to discuss how to build Catholic culture in a secular society.

In addition to being editor-at-large of National Review Online, Lopez serves as director of Catholic Voices USA, helping prepare Catholics to speak effectively in media and public life.
She offered several tips for responding to criticism and controversy about the Catholic faith.

"Look for the positive intention behind the criticism," she advised. "There's often a Christian value to appeal to. Speak to it."

She advised Catholic communicators to "shed light, not heat," and to help "open doors to the sacraments."

"People won't remember what you said as much as how you made them feel," she stressed.

In addition to concise speech that "speaks to the heart with solid content," modern media includes the ability to use "images and video that capture attention like words don't."

Lopez also emphasized the importance of storytelling in sharing the faith, saying it is "one of the best things you can do to get people listening."

"It's not about you. It's about Christ. That can actually be tremendously liberating," she said. "God must increase, I must decrease."

"We have to be willing to walk with people where they are, showing them Catholicism in its fullness. Show joy and sacrifice and rigor too. Be for real, making clear that we live in the real world."

It is important to remember that the cultural mainstream views God and religion as only a "safe harbor," a consolation for the dead and the sick but not something that should be "infecting other areas of life," she said.

"The media keeps people from dreaming, from sacrificing, from serving, from believing they matter all that much beyond their desires," she explained. "We need to encourage creative people to write better scripts, to tell uplifting redemptive stories. We need people to turn on TVs and open books and not wallow in someone else's misery to escape theirs but to want to be better and to seek out entertainment that will help them on that journey."

Lopez said it is an "injustice" to the general public, students, colleagues, friends and the faithful if Catholics' communications are "anything other than an apostolic endeavor."

At the same time, she warned that Catholics' communications efforts "are only going to be as good as our souls."

"(W)oe to anyone attempting to make the case for the Church in the public square who isn't going to confession regularly, daily Mass as often as possible, and serious about prayer," she said, cautioning that the constant activity of media life tempts people to live "without sacramental grace and without contemplation."

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"It's so easy for a 'professional Catholic' to lose his or her soul. Or to fall and lose other souls in the scandal," she explained. "Redemption stories tend not to make news."

Lopez also noted an air of "mourning" in contemporary life among people who feel they are losing something or because of a lack of something that makes them often seek love "in all the wrong places."

"We need to bear in mind the mourning of those we disagree with, the pain they carry. Not to make compromises but to open doors so that their hearts might be open to what Catholicism offers," she said.

Whether in news appearances, outside of church, at the local bar, or in family life, Catholics should welcome the opportunities to discuss their faith, she said, stressing that "this is our gospel mandate, to let people know what is worth living and dying for."

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