Following is a translation of the speech delivered (Oct. 13) by Pope John XXIII to journalists covering the ecumenical council.
The purpose of today’s audience is to express the esteem we have for the representatives of the press and the importance we attribute to your profession.
On the day after our election, we arranged to meet a special group of journalists from all over the world. In the succeeding four years of our pontifical service, we have had several opportunities of addressing words of encouragement and exhortation to members of your profession.
For the purposes of the council we have opened, as you know, a press office and a secretariat for the different forms of communication. We have set up also a commission in the council to devote itself to the lay apostolate and to the apostolates of the press, radio and entertainment. This will show you the importance your vocation has for us and, at the same time, our desire to help you to carry it out well.
The solemn occasion of the opening of this 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church prompted us to give you a special mark of our goodwill. We also felt keenly that we must tell you personally how much we desire your loyal cooperation in presenting this great event to the public in its true colors.
We have, of set purpose, chosen the Sistine to be the setting of this audience in order to its importance. At the foot of Michelangelo’s famous fresco of the Last Judgment — as we said yesterday to special missions — each one can reflect with profit his responsibilities. Yours, gentlemen, are great. You are at the service of truth and you come up to men’s expectations in so far as you serve it faithfully.
We speak purposely of the expectations of men — of men, that is, in general — for though the press have at one time reached no more than a select few, it is obvious that today it directs the thoughts and feelings and emotions of a great part of mankind. For this reason, the distortion of truth by the organs of information can have incalculable consequences.
There is admittedly a great temptation to pander to the taste of a particular section, to be more concerned with speed than accuracy, to be more interested in “sensational” than in the objective truth. And so undue prominence is given to some incidental detail and the reality is softpedaled in the way an event is presented or a situation or an opinion or a belief is summed up.
That, of course, is a way of obscuring the truth and, if it is serious in any context, how much more so is it when it is a question of the most intimate and sacred matter of religion and the soul’s relationship with God!
An ecumenical council has naturally external and secondary aspects, which can easily be used to satisfy the curiosity of an importunate public.
It can also, 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 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 all of you an effort to understand and to make others understand that these solemn conciliar sessions are primarily religious and spiritual. By means of the conscientious fulfillment of your mission as reporters on the council, we look forward, gentlemen, to very happy results as regards the attitude of world opinion toward the Catholic Church in general, her institutions, and her teachings.
Deep-rooted prejudices can exist on this subject in different areas-and in particular where people do not enjoy faithful and objective reporting. These serve to keep alive in men’s hearts pockets of resistance, of suspicion, and of misunderstanding, the consequences of which are regrettable for the advancement of harmony between men and nations.
These prejudices rest most often on inaccurate or incomplete information. 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 account 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 of the universal Church here assembled! The mere announcement of the council has aroused in the whole world a remarkable interest to which you have largely contributed.
And even yesterday — 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 the press reports. It is our earnest desire that your accounts should arouse the friendly interest of the public in the council and help eventually to correct mistaken or incomplete views of it.
You could make it known that there are no political machinations afoot. You will be able to see and to report the true motives which inspire the Church’s action in the world, and bear witness to the fact that she has nothing to hide, that she follows a straight path without any deviations and that she wants nothing so much as the truth, for men’s happiness and for a fruitful concord between the nations of every continent.
And so, thanks to you, many prejudices can be dissipated. In serving the truth you will at the same time have assisted that “interior disarmament” which is the absolutely necessary condition for the establishment of true peace on this earth.
These, gentlemen, are our hopes, our incentives and our desires. Permit us to add a word of gratitude. For we appreciate your efforts to inform the public of the manifestation of the Church’s life, and we have, on our own account, good reason for satisfaction in the respectful understanding with which you have, in general, spoken of our own humble person.
Called by the designs of Providence to this high office, and that at an advanced age, after many and varied experiences, we find, certainly, comfort and encouragement in what is said about us: Our personality, character, apostolic enterprises, but none of that disturbs the tranquil peace of our soul. In 1953, when we took leave of France, which has ever remained dear to us, we said:
“For my personal consolation so long as I shall live — and wherever it may please the Holy Father to appoint me to a work and a responsibility in the service of the Church — I ask no more than that each good Frenchman, recalling my humble name and stay amongst you, may be able to say: he was a loyal and a peaceable priest; always and on every occasion a true and sincere friend of France.”
We repeat today, gentlemen, that wish of 10 years ago and we extend it in applying it to your profession: We ask no more than that you may always and on every occasion be able to write down as our single and true title of honor: he was a priest before God and before the people, a true and sincere friend of all the nations.
And now, we will give you our blessing. In the words of the beautiful Biblical expression which is perhaps known to you, “a father’s blessing is the buttress of his children’s house” (Eccl. 3, 11). That is a thought that is familiar to us, one which an old father may permit himself when he looks with tenderness on his sons.
It is accordingly from an affectionate heart that we call down upon you, in conclusion, the best graces from on high, and we bestow upon you, and upon your families and all those who are dear to you, the apostolic blessing.