Pope John XXIII has urged the world press to stress the religious nature of the ecumenical council.
At a special audience granted to more than 800 newsmen accredited to the council press office, Pope John showed himself thankful for the great interest of the press in the council, aware of the great responsibilities of the press and hopeful that it will report council events with care and accuracy.
It was a smiling, almost joyous Pontiff who entered the flood-lit Sistine chapel for an 11 a.m. audience (Oct. 13). As he walked to the temporary throne set up beneath Michelangelo’s colossal masterpiece, the painting of “The Last Judgment,” 807 journalists from all parts of the world gave him a loud ovation of applause and cheers.
Because the first business session of the ecumenical council had adjourned less than an hour after it opened, the journalists present were somewhat disheveled from trying to enter the Vatican’s Bronze Doors at the same time more than 2,000 bishops were trying to leave.
If the newsmen were a little weary looking, the Pope was not. The long sessions of the council’s opening ceremonies and the official audiences he has granted apparently have not phased the 80-year-old Pontiff.
Speaking in French, the Pope told the journalists: “We … felt keenly that we must tell you personally how much we desire your loyal cooperation in presenting this great event in its true colors.”
The Pope said that he had decided to hold the audience in the Sistine Chapel to underscore the importance he attached to it. He continued:
“There is admittedly a great temptation to pander to the taste of a particular section, to be more concerned with speed than accuracy and to be more interested in the ‘sensational’ than in the objective truth.”
As a result, Pope John went on, “undue prominence is given to some incidental detail and reality is softpedaled in the way an event is presented or a situation or an opinion or a belief is summed up. This, of course, is a way of obscuring the truth and, if it is serious in any context, how much more serious is it when it is a question of the most intimate and sacred matter of religion and of the soul’s relationship with God.”
The Pope called on the newsmen to center their attention on the council’s essential significance and not on secondary or external aspects.
The council, he said, “can in the long run exert a happy influence on the relations between men in the social and even in the political sphere. But it is essentially a great religious event, and it is our earnest desire that you should help to make this fact well known.”
“This will show you what great tact and discretion, what care for understanding and accuracy one may rightly expect here of a reporter with the honor of his noble profession at heart. We ask of all of you an effort to understand and to make others understand that these solemn conciliar sessions are primarily religious and spiritual.”
The result of such an approach by the world press, the Pontiff stated, would be the favorable “attitude of world opinion toward the Catholic Church in general, her institutions and her teachings.” He also noted that it would serve to uproot many old prejudices “which rest most often on inaccurate or incomplete information.”
The Pope stressed that “people attribute to the Church doctrines which she does not profess, people blame her for attitudes which she has taken in definite historical circumstances and they unjustifiably generalize those attitudes without taking into consideration their accidental and particular character.
“What occasion could be more fitting, gentlemen, than an ecumenical council to establish true contact with the life of the Church and to gain information from responsible sources which clearly reflect the thought of the episcopacy and the Universal Church here assembled. The mere announcement of the council has aroused in the whole world a remarkable interest to which you have contributed.”
The Pontiff paid special tribute to modern means of communication in the coverage of the council’s opening session. He said:
“We must congratulate you for this. It was thanks to your presence and to your often difficult work that for the first time in history the entire world was enabled to take part in the opening of an ecumenical council, directly by radio and television and also by press reports.
“It is our earnest desire that your accounts arouse the friendly interest of the public in the and eventually correct mistaken or incomplete it.”
Pope John added: “You could make it known there are no political machinations afoot. You will able to see and to report the true motives which the Church’s action in the world, and bear witness fact that she has nothing to hide, that she straight path without deviations, that she wants nothing so much as truth, for men’s happiness and for fruitful concord among the nations of every continent.
“And so, thanks to you, many prejudices can be dissipated. In serving the truth you will have assisted the same time that ‘interior disarmament’ which is absolutely necessary condition for the establishment of true peace on this earth.”
Pope John ended the audience with his apostolic blessing and then visited briefly with some of the men who had crowded around him.
James C. O’Neill
NC Rome Correspondent