There really is something special about Rome. I was recently there (again!) for the Professional Seminar for Church Communications Offices, offered biennially by the University of Santa Croce, who offers a very substantial communications and media academic program.
Like any trip to Rome for a bishop, such occasions also offer the opportunity to ‘do some business’, which I duly did – catching up with friends, having a few meetings on the side, and especially this year, passing through the Holy Door of Mercy at St Peter’s Basilica. Che bella, Roma!
I was attending the Seminar in my capacity as the episcopal delegate on social communications for the Bishops’ Commission for Evangelisation (having recently succeeded Bishop Peter Ingham in the role – from ‘Pete’ to ‘re-Pete’!) My own Comms Director at Broken Bay, Annie Carrett, encouraged me to attend, having herself attended one of the past seminars and found the networking among fellow professionals particularly good. (I should add that Annie wasn’t so happy that I travelled alone!)
This year’s seminar was entitled: Participation and Sharing – Managing Church Communications in a Digital Environment. There were well over 250 delegates from all corners of the world: lay men and women, religious, clergy and bishops. Especially noteworthy for me was the large number of media and comms professionals who attended. Clearly, this was a well-respected seminar of professional development. There were three other Aussies in attendance (that I know of): Katrina Lee from the Archdiocese of Sydney, Joseph Younes from Parramatta, and Christine Hogan at CathNews. The schedule was jam–packed, and the organisers had succeeded in attracting a number of high quality presenters.
Like all such events in Rome, the Italian understanding of workshop/discussion/dialogue is different from ours: lots and lots of presentations and papers, with not enough conversation and Q&A. This can be a little disconcerting for a newbie from the New World way of things, but I’ve been to enough of these Roman events to know what to expect. For a Roman occasion this Seminar was better than most, and there were some lively and interesting discussions on the sidelines, and during the breaks.
A highlight? Two stand out. First, the opportunity to hear from Bishops from Liberia, Armenia and Iraq. Our western-world challenges pale into insignificance in the face of the immense difficulties and struggles faced by God’s People and the Church in these countries. Rightly so, they received a tumultuous ovation from the assembled audience. Secondly, we heard from Monsignor Dario Vigano, the recently appointed Secretary of the newly established Secretariat for Communications of the Holy See. It was enlightening to hear from him about how the Vatican is restructuring its communications and the push to engage with the ever more deeply embedded digital reality of people’s lives.
One of the asides for me was an evening meal with Greg Bourke, the newly appointed Vice Director of the Holy See Press Office. As many of you will know, Greg is a veteran Vaticanista, and he brings both a deep sense of faith and immense professional skills to this important role. It was a lovely meal and conversation, and I left feeling comforted we have someone from an Anglo-American worldview at the heart of the Church’s communications.
All in all, may I recommend that the next Professional Seminar for Church Communications Offices be considered as part of your own professional development. May the Good Lord, who communicated his love and mercy through the gift of Christ, his Son, continue to bless and guard us!