The Pope and the Press

When I was a journalism student at Central Michigan University back in the late ’70s, I was much more interested in pursuing my career than practicing my Catholic faith. Yes, I believed in God, but didn’t think I needed any of God’s help except maybe on the night before a big exam.

Something Worthy of Your Best Years

I didn’t pay much attention to Pope John Paul the Second except as it pertained to major news events.

Then there was a powerful statement made by the Holy Father concerning the important role of the mass media. The pope gave the message to journalists covering his visit to the United Nations. I was still in college and discovered the statement in a magazine published by a national journalism organization. It was accompanied by a picture of the pope smiling and standing behind a microphone. His comments came with a caption that caught my attention: “Something Worthy of Your Best Years.” The pope may have been speaking to experienced reporters used to covering major events, but I felt he was talking directly to me. I wanted to make a difference by being a messenger of truth, and that’s exactly what John Paul the Second told the reporters covering his United Nations visit:

You are indeed servants of the truth; you are its tireless transmitters, diffusers, defenders. You are dedicated communicators, promoting unity among all nations by sharing truth among all nations. If your reporting does not always command the attention you would desire, or if it does not always conclude with the success that you would wish, do not grow discouraged. Be faithful to the truth and to its transmission, for truth endures: Truth will not go away. And I say to you, take it as my parting words to you — that the service of truth, the service of humanity through the medium of the truth, is something worthy of your best years, your finest talents, your most dedicated efforts.

I framed that statement and although the page is a bit worn and yellow around the edges, it still sits on my desk today. The words of the pope kept me going as I moved from radio to TV news, and are especially meaningful to me now as a Catholic talk-show host.

Looking back, I realize now that not only did the Holy Father encourage me and other members of the news media that our jobs matter and that our mission was important, he also challenged the mass media to be more responsible. He expressed his concerns to working journalists, media managers in the printed press, and those who control programming and content on TV stations, radio stations, and the networks. His message for World Communications Day 2004 was particularly strong. While acknowledging that the expansion of the communication market could be beneficial in terms of educational and spiritual growth, he also helped parents realize that excessive use of the media could be problematic:

Parents also need to regulate the use of media in the home. This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting the time children devote to the media, making entertainment a family experience, putting some media entirely off limits and periodically excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities. Above all, parents should give good examples to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.

In that 2004 statement the pope’s message was music to the ears of those working to change federal regulations regarding violence and sexual content on radio and in prime-time programming. Media activist groups such as the Parents TV Council consistently tell their members and the general public to speak out, to write letters, send emails, and make phone calls. Pope John Paul the Second echoed those sentiments: “Families should be outspoken in telling producers, advertisers, and public authorities what they like and dislike,” he said.

Proclaimed from the Rooftops

Interestingly his charge to the media did not discourage the world-wide press from covering the Holy Father. The cameras, microphones, and notepads were with John Paul II everywhere he went. Whether it was satellite TV, cable, the Internet, or newspaper, because of his willingness to share through the media what he received in prayer, it is said that he eventually became the most recognizable person in the world.

News veterans say his media accessibility was reflective of how he carried out his papacy. Bob Kuszynski, Assignment Manager for the Detroit ABC affiliate, WXYZ-TV Channel 7, noted how even the announcement of the pope’s passing took advantage of the latest in technology. The announcement was made via the Internet and through an email alert. It was the pope who also approved and blessed the first Vatican Web site. He even had his own email address. Kuszynski says John Paul the Second was always trying to get closer to his flock and he knew the mass media could help him accomplish that goal.

“He was always reaching out, and that was reflected in his travels around the world. After a while the media became second nature to him and to the public. He had built such a charisma. Everyone loved him and followed him. He didn’t have to think about the media because they were always right there with him,” Kuszynski said.

One scripture verse in particular seems almost prophetic in terms of the way the pope dealt with and worked with the media. He always had a message for them, but never failed to use the media wisely to proclaim the Gospel. In the 27th verse of the 10th Chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples “what is whispered in your ear proclaim from the housetops.”

No verse is more applicable when we consider the media explosion that occurred during the last 26 years when John Paul the Second served as the Vicar of Christ. The pope even incorporated this particular scripture into his message for World Communications Day 2001, “Preach from the housetops”: The Gospel in the Age of Global Communication. He told the Catholic faithful that “we have listened to the truth of Jesus, now we must proclaim the truth from the housetops.”

What do we see today when we drive down the street and look at the rooftops or housetops of homes in our neighborhoods? We see a “forest of transmitters and antennae sending and receiving messages of every kind to and from the four corners of the earth.” The pope pointed out that among all the messages and images being sent and received “it is vitally important that the word of God be heard…. To proclaim the faith from the housetops means to speak Jesus’s word in and through the dynamic world of communications.”

Kuszynski added that John Paul the Second was such a contrast to other popes in the mid to late 20th century mainly because he was the first one who could take advantage of the many housetops or the advances in media technology: “He is the first pope to have his visits to foreign countries transmitted via satellite to everywhere in the world. And then his message was also transmitted via radio, cable, and the Internet.”

Kuszynski, a practicing Catholic, who has worked in Detroit radio and TV for more than thirty years, said he was especially moved by an interview he heard recently with a magazine reporter who traveled with the pope: “The writer explained how the pope would make his way to the back of the plane where the press corps was seated. The pope would stop and talk with each reporter answering questions in the reporter’s native language. His willingness to communicate with the press and his language skills was another sign that he understood the importance of interacting with the media.”

Higher Standards

Ned McGrath, a former TV journalist who currently serves as Communications Director for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said the pope never took the news media for granted: “As a former news reporter, I always appreciated the pope’s expressed gratitude for the hard and difficult work done by media professionals. True, he never hesitated to challenge the media outlets on matters of decency and responsibility. At the same time, however, he never condemned the media en masse. Instead he called them to accountability and higher standards,” McGrath said.

Pope John Paul the Second was photographed with presidents, kings, countless children, and even rock stars including Bono and Bob Dylan. He was a favorite of young people around the world, even though he was old enough to be their grandfather or even great-grandfather and held strong to Catholic Church teachings that prohibit sex outside of marriage, birth control, and abortion. His teachings contrasted with what teens hear in today’s media, especially when you consider that young people receive at least 14 thousand sexual messages each year from TV alone. But communications specialists will tell you that because of his strong faith, his natural charisma, and his sincere love of people, he was a media magnet. Hundreds of thousands of young people flocked to World Youth Day events, gatherings that produced some of Pope John Paul the Second’s most memorable moments.

In this day and age of media spin and public relations blitzes, McGrath insists the pope won the media over by simply being true to himself, but especially true to his faith: “Until his final breath, this was a pope who realized the value and power of the media. Consider, for example, how his very public witness to the Gospel of Life — the dignity of the human person — is a story being told and retold around the world. It was the Holy Father’s message; the media generously served as his messenger.”

As someone who spent more than 20 years in the secular media, and now hosts a Catholic talk show, I am amazed at how the pope’s writings concerning the media are so applicable to the lives of others in the media and to the lives of parents and families around the globe. On a personal level, I treasure the fact that I had the chance to cover the pope twice on his visits to the US and to be part of a papal audience in Rome. I’ve come a long way from those days in college when I was a Christmas and Easter Catholic. Struggles, disappointments, and challenges eventually forced me to look beyond my own selfish interests and go back to the core beliefs of my Catholic faith.

As I continue on my Christian walk and as I continue working in the media, I do find that my reporting doesn’t always, as the Holy Father said, command the attention I would desire, or conclude with the success that I had hoped for. I often get very frustrated with many in the media who continually distort the truth or show a particular bias. But despite all of that, I truly believe that the “service of humanity through the medium of truth is something still worthy of my best years, my finest talents, and my most dedicated efforts.” So I will continue to do my part to proclaim it from the rooftops.

© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange

Teresa Tomeo is a former Detroit area newswoman with more than 20 years of experience as a radio and TV anchor in the Detroit area. She now works as a professional speaker and a Catholic talk-show host on the Ave Maria Radio Network. Teresa also serves as a media columnist for a daily suburban Detroit newspaper. To learn more about Teresa visit Or contact Teresa at [email protected].

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Teresa Tomeo is an author, syndicated Catholic talk show host and motivational speaker with more than 30 years of experience in TV, radio and newspaper and spent 19 of those years working in front of a camera as a reporter/anchor in the Detroit market. In the year 2000, Teresa left the secular media to start her own speaking and communications company, Teresa Tomeo Communications, LLC and her web site and blog at Her daily morning radio program, Catholic Connection, is produced by Ave Maria Radio and EWTN’s Global Catholic Radio Network and can be heard on over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates worldwide including Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. Over the past two decades, Teresa Tomeo has traveled extensively throughout Italy and has led pilgrimages and tours there over 50 times. In 2019, she founded T’s Italy, a travel consultation company along with its web site, where she shares insider tips for where to eat, stay, shop & play in this beautiful country.

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