In addition to the spiritual and emotional experience I also remember that the controversies of the day seem naïve compared to today. In fact the biggest “controversy” in the city was a local radio station accused of blasphemy for changing the words to the fifties song “Let’s Go to the Hop” to Let’s Go See the Pope”.
Fast forward to 2015 and our 24/7 communication and Pope Francis’ trip to the US this week will be and has been fraught with controversy. As a public figure his every move has been and will be scrutinized, analyzed, and probably misinterpreted by the secular and religious press and bloggers. For days we’ll have wall to wall media coverage. The Media Circus from both ends of the spectrum will be performing for your entertainment (ratings) and not for providing you with information.
Doubts? I collected a series of headlines about Pope Francis from websites over the past couple of weeks. Can you guess which ones are from the secular press and which ones are from religious websites?
“What do Starbucks and Pope Francis Have in Common?”
“Vatican Supports Naming Square after Protestant Reformer”
“Pope Draws Attention from People of Many Faiths”
“Faster, Cheaper, Easier: Pope Changes Policies for Marriage Annulment”
“Catholics Liberal on Same-Sex Couples, Contraception”
“Pope Francis to Raise Awareness about Climate Change in the U.S.”
“Pope Francis to Allow Priests to Forgive Abortions”
“Pope Francis Blesses Italian Lesbian Author”
“Pope Francis Drives a Wedge between Catholic Church, GOP”
The answer is that the first five come from religious websites (Christian and Catholic). Remember the name of the game of any website is to get you to click on the link. Facts, balance, and fairness often get ignored when the task is to attract people.
So what is an Everyday Catholic do to?
First, realize that all media outlets will be covering the papal visit with wall to wall coverage that will be unprecedented in the history of the papacy. Unless you put yourself in a sealed, soundproof room you will not escape the spectacle.
Second, accept the fact that familiarity is what drives media loyalty. MSNBC viewers will not switch to Fox. Newsmax readers will not embrace the Huffington Post. EWTN viewers will not convert to Trinity Broadcasting (pun intended). Accept the fact that you and others you know will receive information from the same familiar filters.
Third, acknowledge there are filters and be aware of what they are saying. Every outlet, every reporter, every website has an agenda. Let’s put that out there. By making choices of what to cover and what not to cover, unintentional bias is often created. Once a viewer and consumer realizes this, he or she can begin to observe all media with a critical and healthy skeptical eye.
Fourth, some media outlets, websites, bloggers will have intentional bias. Be aware that who is providing the info is just as important as the fact themselves. The LGBT community will have its own view of Pope Francis, as well as those who do not recognize the legitimacy of pontiffs since Pius XII. Some Christian sects will use this visit as an excuse to defame Catholicism, and women ordination groups will speak hopefully about the possibility of a new spring in the Church.
Fifth, there will be much silliness in the coverage. This usually comes about when there is too much airtime or web space to fill. I am sure there will be some comments on Pope Francis’ attire (white after Labor Day?), what he eats or doesn’t, and celebrity reaction to the pontiff. It happens and most of it is harmless although banal. Perhaps this would be the best time to log off or turn off the TV and say a prayer.
Last, rejoice in the Pope’s visit. Give thanks to God for his presence in the world and prayer for his safety. Pray for the success of the trip. Pray that the media will do a responsible job.
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