An interview with Mark von Riedemann, Communication Director of Aid to the Church in Need.
By Reinhard Backes, ACN International
Fr. Werenfried, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, was a master of communication. His gift, upon his return from travels, was to tell the story of the suffering Church in churches and parish halls in such a way as to light a fire of compassion and indignation in the hearts of those hearing his words, spurring prayer and action. Today the charity still relies on preaching, but often the new pulpit has changed, growing beyond the church and parish hall and encompassing the electronic media – a new way of spreading the Gospel message and the story of those, the ‘elite of the Church’ (Fr. Werenfried) who suffer for their Faith and inspire us to a greater reflection of our own baptismal call.
2. What are the aims of your department?
One is, via our Services department, to support our National offices which are directly responsible for raising the funds to help the suffering church. We provide them with information on projects and work with them to provide accurate and timely information.
The second is our press, photo and audiovisual departments which through articles, images, TV and Radio, seek to inform the public and our benefactors on topics from all around the world, concerning the pastoral needs of the suffering Church.
3. How would you define the term media apostolate? What is the mission that is associated with it?
Pope John Paul II made this clear in his 1990 World Communications Day message: “It was for God’s faithful people to make creative use of the new discoveries and technologies for the benefit of humanity and the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world….employing the full potential of the ‘computer age’ to serve the human and transcendent vocation of every person, and thus to give glory to the Father from whom all good things come”.
The media silence concerning the persecution of Christians is a fact. ACN has been given a mission to tell the world, via the media, about the suffering Church. Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq, in his foreword to the ACN publication “Persecuted and Forgotten” wrote: “The persecution of Christians in our world today amounts to a human rights disaster. It is a catastrophe that has been ignored by the media, almost as if a news black-out has been enforced.” If we fail in this mission, and the media remains silent on this subject, then the “reality” for many will be that Christians are not suffering and those involved in communications will have failed.
4. Why does ACN invest nearly 9 percent of its budget in the media apostolate? Was that always the case? Or is it a new project?
To answer this question, I will draw on three sources: the Decree on the Media of Social Communications “Inter Mirifica” published in December 1963 by Pope Paul VI and the Spiritual guidelines of the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, Fr. Werenfried and finally the 2013 address to journalists by Pope Francis .
In the introduction of ‘Inter Mirifica’ we read: “The Church recognises that these media, if properly utilized can be of great service to mankind” and, in Chapter 1, it continues: “It is, therefore, an inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal and to employ any of these media insofar as they are necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians.
Fr. Werenfried stated in Guideline 28: “From this pastoral character emerge the aims that we wish to pursue and the projects to which our organisation must give precedence. Chief among these are the training of priests, religious, catechists and lay pastoral workers, the provision of bibles, liturgical and theological books and catechetical materials, the promotion of post-graduate theological studies, the establishment of contemplative convents, the material support of needy priests, religious and others in the service of the Church, the construction and repair of churches, chapels, seminaries, convents and other Church properties, the provision of transport for pastoral workers and the apostolate of the media.”
From this we understand that from the earliest periods in the Church and the charity, the media is a service to mankind and as such bears a great responsibility to communicate the truth. Fr. Werenfried understood the importance of the media and the media apostolate as a worthy project in its own right – equal in importance to the training of priests and the construction of churches. In this sense, the provision of information is also a “project”.
Finally, again today we are called to a renewed understanding of this media apostolate through Pope Francis’s Saturday March 16, 2013 address to journalists in which he stated:
“…At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events. Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful. This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty “in person”. It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness.”
This call, to spread this truth, beauty and goodness – the gospel – is at the root of our lives as Christians and at the root of Aid to the Church in Need. With the spread of new media and the ever greater impact on our lives, ACN bears anew its responsibility to communicate the Gospel values.
This interview will be followed tomorrow by an article about the inauguration of a new building to house the Catholic “Radio Wa,” in Uganda.