80-Year-Old Radio of the World Celebrates Its Protector

Author: ZENIT


80-Year-Old "Radio of the World" Celebrates Its Protector

Vatican Broadcasting Station Marks Today's Feast of Angel Gabriel

By Renzo Allegri

ROME, 29 SEPT. 2011 (ZENIT)
St. Gabriel is the angel of the Annunciation, the one who brought to a Jewish girl named Mary the greatest news ever: The only-begotten Son of God would be incarnated to redeem humanity from Adam's betrayal. From its beginning, Vatican Radio chose this angel as its protector because its specific and unique task is to continue to spread in the world, through the Pope's word and the news of the Church, that incredible message.

Today, journalists, technicians and correspondents that make up the great family of Vatican Radio gathered together with the director general Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, at the headquarters of their broadcasting station in the Palazzo Pio in Rome, to take part together in a Holy Mass of thanksgiving for the work carried out, and to spend some hours in fraternal friendship.

In the vast picture of the innumerable radio stations existing on earth, that of the Vatican stands alone. It is differentiated clearly from all the others. It has no commercial aims; it is not concerned with politics, sports, songs, star worship, gossip and all the other topics from which the media of our time lives. It is concerned with problems that affect indistinctly all people, whatever their social position, culture, race, because all human beings are children of God. Hence, it is everyone's radio, the radio of the world.

Vatican Radio was desired by Pius XI in 1929, immediately after the signing of the Lateran Pacts, which put an end to the "Roman question," namely, the political controversy that broke out in 1870, when the Eternal City, for centuries seat of the temporal power of pontiffs, was taken from the papacy and unilaterally proclaimed capital of Italy. With the 1929 agreement, the Italian state granted the Church a small territory that became Vatican State. They were the years of the spread of the Radio and Pius XI intuited that with this means, from his small state he would be able to reach the world. He entrusted the task of creating a Vatican Radio Station to the founder himself of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi. The solemn inauguration was on Feb. 12, 1931.

The intuition Pius XI had 80 years ago, was realized perfectly. Today Vatican Radio broadcasts in 48 languages and brings together all the nations of the world. Hence, it has an enormous public, perhaps the largest of any other means of communication existing on earth. "It is impossible to quantify, even if only approximately, the public of Vatican Radio," says professor Sean Patrick Lovett, one of the greatest experts of communication at the world level, docent in this subject at the Pontifical Gregorian University and, for 20 years, responsible for the programs in English of the Vatican broadcasting station. "We know in what nations our radio is officially present. We also know the radio stations, in general Catholic or Christian, that 'retransmit' our programs. We know, for example, that in the United States and in Canada, the listeners are those who follow primarily on podcast, namely, by downloading programs from the Internet, whereas in other areas, Africa, Southeast Asia we are still heard on short wave. But, going around the world, making contacts with collaborators, I realized that in reality it is not possible to have certain data on the public, also in fact because the very channels of distribution that we know do not reflect the reality. There are many, many more. One day, speaking with a bishop of Papua New Guinea, I learned that the program in English of Vatican Radio that arrives in that nation, is translated into eight to 10 other languages, taken to several islands and retransmitted. In Papua New Guinea there are three official languages and more than 850 local languages. Hence, the only program in English of which we have knowledge, is multiplied by 10. And this happens also in other parts of the world, in Africa, in the Amazon, in Patagonia, in Siberia, etc. Therefore, in reality we do not even know in how many effective languages our programs are broadcast and it is not possible to calculate the number of listeners."

In the beginning, Vatican Radio's programs had a purely academic character. One of the first broadcasts was titled "Scientiarum Nuncius Radiophonicus," and it was a review of the activity of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a review made in Latin, which was the first official language of Vatican Radio. However very soon, next to the broadcasts in Latin, several arrived in other languages: Italian, French, Spanish, English, German. They were aired by scholars but were abstract scientific reports dedicated to the activity of the Academy of Sciences.

"The first great revolution in Vatican Radio happened with the outbreak of World War II," I was told by journalist Alessandro De Carolis, vice chief editor of the news of the Pope broadcasting station and author of the book "From Megahertz to Gigabyte. Vatican Radio from John Paul II to Benedict XVI," which will be presented officially on Oct. 4.

"On the eve of the conflict, it was in fact the evening of Thursday, Aug. 24, 1939, Pius XII, presaging what was about to happen, pronounced the radio-message with the famous appeal to heads of state of the whole world: 'Nothing is lost with peace. Everything can be lost with war.' An appeal that was not heeded but which shook the consciences of millions of people who were able to hear the Pope's voice thanks to the radio and to reflect on the imminent conflict. Four years earlier, in 1935, Stalin asked French Prime Minister Pierre Laval, on a visit to Moscow: 'But how many military divisions does the Pope have?' His was an ironic question because he knew well that Vatican State did not have armies. However, Stalin had not thought of that strange weapon, the microphone, the radio, which became very powerful without using any physical violence, but making use of free information. Instead, one who did realize was Nazi Joseph Goebbels, minister of Hitler's government, discovering, during the invasion of France by the Nazis, that the members of the French Resistance transcribed the news broadcast by the Vatican station and spread it clandestinely. He swore he would destroy that radio, but did not succeed."

"In the course of World War II, Vatican Radio became the protagonist of an extraordinary humanitarian initiative," De Carolis continued. "The conflict had taken to the front hundreds of thousands of men, who had left their families, mothers, fathers, spouses, children in great anxiety. Often communication was impossible. Soldiers were wounded, made prisoners, killed, and in their homes nothing was known. At the end of 1940, Vatican Radio began to organize useful broadcasts in search of news. Messages of prisoners, of refugees, if exiled individuals, of mothers, of wives."

"Then the headquarters of the radio was a small palace within the Vatican. And toward that palace there was always a dramatic procession of persons who were going to give or receive information. A procession that was not interrupted, not even in the hours of curfew. It was estimated that between 1940 and 1945, 1.2 million messages were transmitted.

They were read slowly, pronounced distinctly to be able to be well understood. And they were very precious for very many families." 

"The War over, verified especially in the countries of Eastern Europe was the expansion and reinforcement of the pre-eminence of the Communist ideology. In those countries, religious liberty was reduced and at times completely abolished. The 'new' Socialist 'man' had to be atheist and contemptuous of religion. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, every form of religion was a target, but especially the Catholic, because Catholics were considered 'spies' of the Vatican."

"That terrible situation lasted some 40 years, practically until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And in all those years, millions and millions of people were imprisoned because of their faith, deported to re-education camps in Siberia, tortured and often barbarously killed."

"But numberless also were the 'clandestine' believers, who succeeded in keeping their faith alive, preserving it secretly in their hearts. And for these the only moral help came from Vatican Radio, which succeeded in having its voice reach even those distant countries. They listened to it, of course, at night, in a most secret way, knowing that they were risking their lives should they be discovered. For 40 years Vatican Radio was the only link of these Christians of the catacombs with their faith. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we learned wonderful stories of families that, every so often, organized clandestine meetings in their homes. They invited other believing families, set up a rudimentary radio, often built in an artisan way, in the middle of the kitchen and, all together, on their knees, followed the broadcasts of Vatican Radio, especially the celebration of the Mass. And the directors of Vatican Radio, who were aware of the existence of that dramatic reality, built in the Roman countryside in 1957 a very powerful broadcasting center, capable of carrying their messages with short waves also to Siberia."

"New giant steps in the organizational realm," stressed again De Carolis, "were taken again with the Second Vatican Council. The proposal was to follow all the working sessions — an enormous enterprise then, for a radio phonic complex not used to such commitments. But we succeeded and in our archives we have all the recordings. The arrival of John Paul II in 1978, brought a genuine revolution. He was a war machine of activity. To follow him on his continuous and lightning movements, the radio had to change itself completely, invent a new way of working, renew all its technical structures. And it had to do so in a hurry, because Pope Wojtyla was as fast as lightning. But it was done, also on that occasion and in a short time it was able to compete with the best radios of the world."

"The last great change came with information technology. From the traditional short and medium waves, in the 90s, we passed to satellite transmission and then transmission via the Internet. Analogic technology gave way to the digital, and the ways of transmission, of reception, of diffusion were multiplied. "

"We always tried to be at the vanguard from a technical point of view," said professor Sean Patrick Lovett who, with his 20 years of activity in Vatican Radio, and his reputation as an expert in radio communications contributed to maintain the prestige of the broadcasting station. "It is our specific duty to use all the innovations, to be able to be efficient in a world in 'continuous rapid development.' But our main objective is always the same, namely, to spread the Christian message through the voice and teachings of the Holy Father. We are 'the Pope's microphone.' And all that we do must be attuned to his vision of life, which is that of the Gospel."

"There is so much loneliness today in the world. Precisely in this our time, in which technology allows us to communicate, more than that, to 'super-communicate' every second, there is so much sadness and loneliness in hearts. Men feel more alone than ever. Perhaps because of the great ideological confusion that prevails. But in the history of humanity we have 'learned' so much but 'understood' so little. We have at our disposition more information that we need, and yet we are tormented by the great questions of always: they are, from whence do I come, where am I going. And few are the means of communication that offer complete and comprehensible answers.

Above all, we want to do this. Through the Pope's addresses, which are our fixed point of reference, we seek to offer a bit of light to humanity increasingly alone and confused. Our objectives are those of always: to educate and support those who listen to us. We want to be next to the man of today as a friend who takes him by the hand. Commercial radios are oriented to themselves, they wish to attract attention by canceling the other. We seek, with a daily effort, to be above parties, to be useful. It is not useful to enter into controversy, to raise one's voice; it is useful to bring knowledge and awareness. And this is what Vatican Radio seeks to do every day."

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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