(Vatican Radio) Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi steps down as Director General of Vatican Radio at the end of February, in the context of a major overhaul of the Holy See’s media and communications organisations.
After a quarter of a century of service at Vatican Radio, 12 years as head of the Vatican Television Centre (CTV) and a decade as director of the Holy See press office, Fr Lombardi reflected on the lasting legacy of the Radio and his vision for the future of Vatican communications.
Philippa Hitchen takes a closer look……..
When the former superior of the Italian Jesuits was appointed as director of programmes at Vatican Radio, he’s the first to admit he had no radio experience and was unfamiliar with the complex machinations of the world’s smallest city state.
What he did have, however, was over 10 years’ experience with the prestigious Jesuit magazine ‘Civiltà Cattolica’ and a mathematical mind which, he says, helped him to make the transition from lengthy, erudite articles to short, succinct radio stories.
Vatican Radio became his “home”, Fr Lombardi says, where he was fascinated by the wealth of cultural diversity, with employees from over 60 nations, working in almost 40 language programmes with some 15 different alphabets. Cutting down on that rich diversity to save costs, he warns, would be “a real impoverishment of Vatican communications”.
Fr Lombardi admits his biggest regret was the inability to convince his superiors to begin broadcasting in Hausa, one of the main languages of northern Nigeria, currently wracked by the violence of the Boko Haram terrorist group. With running costs of less than 30 euros a day, plus support from both Nigeria’s bishops and local Nigerian religious communities he says, the Radio could have provided a small but vital sign of support for some of the poorest and most persecuted Catholics on the African continent. Within the DNA of the Radio throughout its 85 year history, Fr Lombardi insists, there has always been a sense of service to the poor and oppressed minorities, rather than a slavish addiction to improving audience ratings.
With the advent of new technologies, Fr Lombardi says he sought to lead the Radio from exclusively audio production into a broader, multi-media provider – something that wasn’t always understood by its critics. Furthermore, he notes, the Radio continues to provide other, less visible services, such as technical audio support for papal ceremonies, Vatican input at international telecommunications conferences, translation and language services, documentation and archive material – and all this, while implementing a significant downsizing of staff over the past decade.
Fr Lombardi’s departure from the Palazzo Pio headquarters marks the end of an era for the Jesuits too, whom Pope Pius XI entrusted with the running of the Radio back in 1931. Pope Francis has made clear he wants the order to continue working in communications, though it’s not yet clear how that service may take shape. The name – Vatican Radio – will also cease to exist in the coming months, as it becomes more closely incorporated into a combined output of TV, newspaper, web and social media production. What Fr Lombardi says he hopes will remain at the heart of the new media operation is the dedication of those committed to their mission of sharing the Good News with those on the margins of today’s ‘throwaway culture’.