By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Historians and journalists can play a direct role in helping the church and the world at large, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City told a group of archivists and reporters Oct. 9 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
The bishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications, particularly urged reporters to see the long-term significance of their work amid daily tasks of "confirming facts, tracking down sources (and) meeting deadlines."
"You are writing the first drafts for historians, your notes are the first cuts," he said during the keynote address at the one-day gathering "Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: A Conference for Reporters, Archivists, and Scholars."
He noted that Pope Francis in particular has attracted media attention in the past six months since his election and said reporters should examine and highlight how the pope’s vision for the church can impact the modern world.
Bishop Wester suggested that the pope’s early themes should be further developed in news coverage that examines the church as more than an institution and also looks at its changing leadership style. He also suggested that reporters delve into implications for the church with its first pope from South America and should also focus on church efforts to promote the Gospel, the sacredness of marriage and God’s mercy.
He suggested that stories about the Catholic Church should not just reflect historic events that take place but instead cover the "church as a movement" or pilgrimage. He also suggested that journalists take a closer look at the story of Latino Catholics, not forgetting the pope’s ties with the Catholic Church in South America.
The bishop noted how national media especially picked up on the pope’s interview published in America magazine in September, using headlines such as "The pope isn’t interested in talking about abortion, homosexuality or contraception."
Bishop Wester said that view isn’t an accurate description and stressed that the pope is a "strong, unflinching advocate for life from conception to natural death and he remains a strong voice that promotes the church’s teaching on moral issues related to sexual ethics."
He said one point that did come across in the interview that might have been lost in the shuffle, was the pope "challenging us to maintain a balance, a perspective, that allows us to find new strategies to give these sacred teachings a hearing that will change hearts and minds as we seek to advance the Gospel of life."
On a practical level, he said, it could mean looking at ways Catholics live out their faith in their daily lives such as recent ways parishes and schools have been supporting family life simply by not scheduling school events on Sundays.
He also stressed the importance of showing how people of faith are active in public discourse and helping those in need.
The conference, attended by journalists and diocesan and religious order archivists, also highlighted available online church archive materials and discussed best practices, challenges and funding opportunities for making more materials available online.
The conference was sponsored by Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and the university’s Department of Library and Information Science; the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh libraries, university archives and the president’s office; and Catholic Research Resources Alliance, a nonprofit group of institutions providing Catholic online research materials.
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