Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Tis the Season

‘Tis the season of top 10 lists, so here’s mine.

Top 10 church news stories from a media relations perspective

1. The House of Representatives passage of the Stupak Amendment banning expansion of abortion through health care reform. Polls show that the number of people opposed to abortion is on the rise nationwide and includes men and women of many religions and none, which may account for the vote. In the midst of this, seemingly overnight the U.S. bishops went from being perceived by critics as being powerless to being perceived as running the U.S. government. In a world where it’s not reality but perception of reality that’s important, this would be a publicist’s dream.

2. President Barack Obama at Notre Dame. Graduations are dull – except when the President of the United States comes to speak. Amidst the brouhaha, one unheralded star of the day at ND, however, was the Notre Dame salutatorian who led with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer before all of America. When it comes to symbolism, the Catholic Church has it, and the simple prayerful gesture reflected well on her religious training. This gesture spoke simply of the heart of our faith, the cross, which comes before the Resurrection.

3. Encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical caused a spike on the USCCB Media blog where readers were happy to have background on church social teaching. As is bound to happen, when the encyclical made its debut, some of those who usually support church teaching scoffed at its social message and some who usually challenge the church, applauded it. Throughout all of history there’s been no shortage of opinion when it comes to the church and its social doctrine, as seen in the 20th and 21st centuries when the church, to the dismay of many, became involved in working for the New Deal, integration and health care reform.

4. Outreach to traditionalist Society of St. Pius X including Bishop Richard Williamson, who turned out to be an outspoken Holocaust denier. This effort to bring people together gave new meaning to sausage–making. The pope himself bemoaned the unforeseen developments and said he wished he’d first gone to the Internet and Googled the bishop. The quest for Christian unity will go on, however, because it is rooted in Scripture.

5. Funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. When it comes to public activities, the Catholic Church peaks in its funeral liturgies. Be ye pope or pauper or U.S. senator the same comforting liturgical rite speaks of the world beyond, the message of Jesus and the Resurrection. The telecast of the Mass reminds all, with music and song, that God’s love and care surround us. Abortion is a huge issue, for sure, and perhaps the only thing bigger than it is God’s love and forgiveness.

6. Father Alberto Cutié scandal. The short-lived but widely televised soap opera of a Miami priest caught by tabloid media in a love tryst proved once again that the media can turn anything, even a story of infidelity, into an attack on celibacy. The limelight loving priest, who subsequently joined the Episcopal Church, hasn’t been seen in a while, and hopefully his shot at fame is over. But he sure got his Andy Warhol 15 minutes worth.

7. Archbishop Timothy Dolan named archbishop of New York. From his loud knock on the front door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the sound bite prelate showed he can easily translate religion into real terms. He’s a welcome gift to the world’s media capital, even if a challenge to the Gray Lady, aka, the New York Times. Go Yankees, Go Broadway, Go Archbishop Dolan.

8. Papal trips to Africa and Middle East. Despite the personal strain on him, Pope Benedict made tiring treks that focused attention on world trouble spots when he visited them with his media entourage. His trip to Africa reminded us one again about the scourge of AIDS and the inequality in distribution and use of world’s resources. His trip to the Middle East suggested that religion can be a vehicle for serenity that involves more than prayer. Political leaders can’t seem to bring peace there; perhaps religious leaders can.

9. The traveling exhibit Women & Spirit, which heralds the contributions of the sisters in the United States, is drawing visitors to major museums and many in Washington look forward to its opening at the Smithsonian in mid-January. The exhibit is a wonderful destination for Catholic school and religious education groups who want to learn about an important part of U.S. Catholic history (Did you know nuns tended people on the battlefields during the Civil War?). Older Catholics will find themselves flooded with warm memories of their own times with Catholic sisters.

10. Year for Priests. A great concept from the Vatican to draw attention on the extraordinary cadre of men who give their lives for others, day in, day out. Dioceses around the country laud their service with banners, pray for them at Mass, and remind everyone that you can’t have enough of a good thing. Listen up, young men.

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