Monday, June 22, 2009

Off radar: Pope's teaching ministry has little media echo

Word of possible Pope Benedict, President Obama meeting spreading

National Catholic Reporter
Jun. 22, 2009

By John Thavis, Catholic News Service


News coverage of Pope Benedict XVI tends to leap from big event to big event, so perhaps it's no surprise that after his Holy Land pilgrimage last month the German pontiff has fallen off the mainstream media radar.

To cite a single but typical example, in the month following the Holy Land trip the New York Times did not report about any of the pope's activities at the Vatican. Even in Italy, coverage of Pope Benedict has fallen off markedly.

The pope is likely to step back into the spotlight when he meets with President Barack Obama and when he issues his encyclical on social justice -- two major events expected in the first half of July.

But then the pope goes on vacation outside of Rome, and re-emerges only at the end of September with a visit to the Czech Republic. He doesn't completely disappear, of course; he continues to give talks and meet with individuals and groups. But the press will take little notice.

The pattern of media attention -- or lack of it -- has led some Vatican officials to privately lament what they see as a paradox of Pope Benedict's pontificate: the pope's primary focus and greatest talent is teaching, they say, but it's the kind of teaching that rarely breaks into the news cycle.

"You don't get soundbites from this pope, and that is a challenge to journalists. Another challenge is that he often speaks a language that presupposes faith," said one senior Vatican official.

One priest complained that controversies generated by such episodes as the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop have detracted from the pope's newsmaking capability.

"They're not interested in him. I think part of the reason is that there is a prejudice there now," he said.

Whether or not the whole world is watching, the pope takes his day-to-day ministry seriously. As a sampler, here are four recent talks that received little or no coverage in the mainstream media, but which touched on essential themes of his pontificate:

-- God is love, and can be perceived in the created world. On June 7, the pope delivered another mini-lesson on this favorite topic, saying God can be sensed in the macro-universe of galaxies and planets as well as the micro-universe of cells and genetic material.


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