The mission of communicating good

Father Federico Lombardi turned 80 on August 29. The Piedmontese Jesuit, one of the leading figures in post-Council ecclesial communication, served as director of the Holy See’s press office under Benedict xvi and Pope Francis. For 25 years, he was at the head of Radio Vatican, first as director of programs, then as general manager of Radio Vatican. For more than 10 years he also directed the Vatican Television Center (ctv).

A life of witness and service to the Church, marked by passion and skill, which he continues today as President of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and superior of the Jesuit religious community of “La Civiltà Cattolica”. It was precisely at the magazine of the Society of Jesus, in 1973, that he took his first steps as a journalist before becoming its deputy editor in 1977.

In an interview with the Vatican media, Father Lombardi returns to certain fundamental passages of his life and his profession lived alongside the last three Popes.

Father Lombardi, with what feelings do you live this 80e birthday, which is a few days before — and this is also significant — your 50e anniversary of priestly ordination on September 2?

I have a feeling of surprise to have arrived there! When we are young, we all think that 80 years, or 50 years of priesthood, are very distant goals, goals of very old people… And then, day after day, we get closer and we end up getting there, and perhaps even go beyond. So it’s a surprise, accompanied of course by a lot of gratitude, because I can only give thanks, both for life and for having been called to live this life of religious and priest.

It is a time of thanksgiving, if you like also with an assessment of one’s own life, of one’s own service, but fundamentally it is a time of thanksgiving, because what one has received is so great that there is really only to thank the Lord with astonishment and say: “Thank you, you have given me so much time and so many opportunities and so many proofs of your grace: thank you for have accompanied so far. I hope I have responded in an acceptable way to the gift you made to me”.

Of your 80 years, almost 50 have been devoted to the service of the Church and of the Holy See in the field of communication. What have you learned — even if, of course, a synthesis is difficult — above all in the service of various Sovereign Pontiffs in years, moreover, marked by rapid technological development, also in the field of information?

The first thing I learned through experience — and it took me time to learn it — is that communication, for a person living in faith and in the Church, is a participation in the mission of evangelization, of communication. This is precisely part of the perspectives from which one can see the whole reality of the world, of history, of the relationship with God and between men. Here is the communication: our God is a God who communicates, a God who communicated himself to us with words, with Revelation, with the sending of Jesus Christ!

The whole Church then has a mission, which is to communicate, to make known, to spread this Word of the Lord. Understand that if one is called to work in the field of communication, one is called to collaborate — in specific ways and with specific tasks — in the very nature of the Church and in the relationship between God and humanity.

You are a Jesuit, you were also Provincial of Italy. How has Ignatian spirituality influenced your way of working in communication?

Ignatian spirituality teaches us, helps us and educates us to see God in all things, to see the work of the Lord around us, in reality and in the people around us. It therefore helps us to read reality, people and events from the perspective of faith, as the presence of the Lord at work. Saint Ignatius speaks of the Lord as someone who works: this has always struck me very much.

He acts around us in events, in history, in people, and it is a question of knowing him, of seeing him, of recognizing him in this work which is his, and of helping others. also to see him, to understand him and to welcome him in this presence which is his.

Jean Paul ii , Benedict xvi, Francis. You had the opportunity to be a close collaborator of the last three Popes. What do you take away, personally and professionally, from such an extraordinary, almost unique experience?

I have always conceived my work as a service and it has always seemed clear to me that the Pope is a servant: the Pope is a great servant of the Church and of humanity, of the presence of God in the world. And so I was called to serve this service, to collaborate in this service. Over time, this call for collaboration has appeared to me as a great gift, because the mission that the Popes carry out is truly a marvelous mission for the good of people, of humanity, of believers. I was able to collaborate, put all my strength at the service of this mission, in the specific sense of helping to understand it, to make it known by our means, by our communication channels. It was a service for this great service of the Popes to humanity and to the Church. It always fascinated me and I was very grateful to be called to this type of work.

Those who have had the privilege of working with you know the attention you have always paid to young people, to their personal and professional development. Today, to a young man or a young woman who wishes to embrace the profession of journalist, what advice would you give?

I would tell him that his profession can be beautiful, but that it must be experienced as a vocation: not only as a career where one develops technical skills, but as a means by which one helps people to meet new ones. others, to establish a communication that is understanding, mutual dialogue. A communication that helps to know the truth and not to deceive others; in which we learn to emphasize also the positive aspects and not only the drama of suffering or the problems posed by evil and injustice. Certainly, we must denounce them, but we must also be able to show a presence, often a little more hidden but just as important, of kindness, of love. This seems to me to be the ideal way to evolve in the field of communication, with all the patience and concreteness that it takes to learn, day after day, to communicate well even from a professional point of view. Do not allow yourself to be dominated by technical and professional skills, but know that these must be put at the service of something great and beautiful in order to build together a society and a worthy ecclesial civil community.

You are 80 years old, but you are still active in the field of information, in La Civiltà Cattolica, as well as in the Vatican as president of the -Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation. We can give a lot, even as an elderly person, as Pope Francis pointed out in his recent catechesis on the third age…

As long as we can, as long as we have strength, it is of course good to perform the service that is asked of us. Sometimes it is a service that changes a bit in style, in nature and also in effects: an elderly person perhaps feels less called to be on the latest news, but more on reflection, on the search for meaning things, on values, but also on the future, because we must not withdraw into ourselves. A future in which the essentials continue to lead the way. Precisely, somewhat traditionally, I consider that the true, the good, the beautiful continue to be the reference points of our life and our perspective of hope.

Alessandro Gisotti

The mission of communicating good – L’Osservatore Romano