Prayer Words for Those Who Seek the Truth – The Ukiah Daily Journal
Almost lost in the cacophony of last week’s news — continued fighting in Ukraine, continued economic worries, continued disputes over abortion — were three of the most important phrases of the season. They came to the end of a 1,300-word speech that began with “Happy Sunday! and touched on a remarkable range of topics from fishing to religious faith to what the speaker described as “a macabre regression of humanity”.
These three vital phrases were spoken by Pope Francis and deserve reflection, even prayer. The subject was freedom of the press. Here are those remarks:
I pay tribute to the journalists who pay with their lives to serve this right. Last year, 47 journalists were killed worldwide and more than 350 were imprisoned. A special thank you to those who courageously inform us of the wounds of humanity.
The current pontiff is not endowed with infallible judgment; last week he suggested that the Russian invasion of Ukraine might be motivated by NATO’s westward expansion. But in his remarks on journalism, he acknowledged that there have been occasions in human history when the bishop of Rome must speak about universal truths or, in this case, the value of truth.
It’s one of them. Despite talk of “fake news,” often promulgated by the purveyors of fake news themselves, and complaints that journalists feast on bad news, Francis saw clearly that journalists “bravely inform us of the wounds of the ‘humanity”.
It is true that the Vatican was not beyond reproach in this undertaking. At a time when society was suffering some of its gravest wounds, Pius XII was silent or spoke the truth in language so opaque that he helped prevent those in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany from seeing how their regimes were promulgating unparalleled wounds to humanity. All of this is laid out in a remarkable new book, “The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini and Hitler” by Brown University historian David I. Kertzer, which will be published in a month. Pius obliquely spoke of peace as a “sublime heavenly gift which is the desire of all good souls”. The truth was more complicated than that. It’s always like that.
His successors recognized this and spoke more candidly of the value of truth and, in particular, of journalism’s tireless and relentless pursuit of truth.
Consider what Pope Paul VI, who as a top aide to Pius was on the pontiff’s side during World War II, had to say once he got what is really the pulpit of the world’s bullies. Here is an excerpt from his remarks 50 years ago this spring:
Sincerity and Diligence: A little reflection on words will reveal what supremely honorable service, what utterly excellent service, the truly conscientious communicator renders to humanity and truth, whether reporter, editor, informant or broadcaster . Giving information involves much more than observing and reporting a passing incident. The journalist connects the incident to the context in which it occurs. He looks for causes. He examines the surrounding circumstances.
Paul’s remarks are all the more relevant when read in the context of his view of journalism – much like “scientific research”, he argued, because the journalist “must observe facts carefully, he must verify their accuracy, make a critical evaluation of the sources of his information, and finally, transmit his conclusions, always ensuring that nothing essential is overlooked or suppressed. A course on press ethics could begin and end with these comments.
The same goes for the remarks of John Paul II, delivered on October 2, 1979, in front of journalists in a small antechamber at the United Nations headquarters. I was a 25-year-old journalist covering the Pope’s American pilgrimage, and of all the thousands of speeches I’ve heard – in the mountain hamlets of New Hampshire, the farms of Iowa, the rallies of Quebec Provincial Assembly, congressional hearings, presidential inaugurations – these words I consider most memorable:
You are indeed servants of the truth; you are its indefatigable transmitters, broadcasters, defenders. You are dedicated communicators, promoting unity among all nations by sharing truth among all people.
Then the pope addressed the concerns we have – “If your story doesn’t always get the attention you would like, or if it doesn’t always end with the success you would like” – and he told us “Do not be discouraged. Be faithful to the truth and its transmission, for the truth lasts; the truth will not pass away. The truth will not pass away or change.
In recent decades, challenges to the truth have come from dictators and presidents, as well as small local officials whose insecurity has led them to close meetings that should have been open and to suppress documents that should have been public. They could have listened to Pope John XXIII who, on June 29, 1959, recognized one of the great truths:
All the evils that poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth — and sometimes even more than ignorance, contempt for the truth and its imprudent rejection. Thus arise all kinds of errors, which penetrate the depths of men’s hearts and the blood of human society like a plague.
People in power rarely recognize the value of journalism, although one of the customs of otherwise suspect Washington press dinners is to confuse the press and then acknowledge its value.
Senator John F. Kennedy got into some trouble in 1958: If elected president, he said, “all journalists can go to communist China without official protection — in fact, I’m now making a list of the ones I want go first. This spring, President Joe Biden made some acknowledgments, lamenting a world where “misinformation is massively on the rise, where truth is buried by lies, and lies endure as truth.” Then he added:
Which is clear – and I say this from the bottom of my heart – that you, the free press, matter more than you ever have in the last century.
Jean-Paul ended his comments half a century ago with a truth that endures for all of us in our profession:
The service of truth, the service of humanity through truth — is something worthy of your best years, your best talents, your most dedicated efforts.
To which all of us, whatever our faith, could say: Amen.
David M. Shribman is the former editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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