Throughout the years, the media have played an important role in shaping the minds of people. They have made an impact on almost every aspect of society. Recognizing the media’s power, the Catholic Church has been getting more assertive in imparting Catholic tenets and spreading the gospel through journalism.

Recognizing the role of journalism in the ministry of the Church, the UST Journalism Society organized the first-ever National Catholic Journalism Forum last Feb. 25 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex.

The forum discussed concepts, practices, and applications of Catholic journalism in the cou io, and television nationwide.

In 1963, the Second Vatican Council issued Inter Mirifica, a decree on the media social communications, saying that journalism should “form,strengthen, and spread public views” in view of Catholic teachings and precepts.

The documents streesed the Church’s partnership with the media in ita work to spread the Good News: “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 and all its efforts for the welfare of souls.”

Further, “it is the duty of pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they, with the help of these same media, may further the salvation and perfection of themselves and of the entire human family. In addition, the laity especially must strive to instill a human and Christian spirit into these media, so that they may fully measure up to the great expectations of mankind and to God’s design.”

Nowadays, Catholic journalism tackles social issues but imbuing them with a Christian dimension.

Former media officer of the Archdiocese of Manila and former Varsitarian Witness editor Zandro Rapadas said Catholic journalism is not a new discipline. He said it is practiced whenever a journalist considers ethical values, fairness, objectivity, and conscience, and when he upholds moral standards.

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“Secular and media practitioners are practicing Catholic journalism when they are truthful and objective to their reportage,” Rapadas said.

Life Today editor Fr. Guillermo Tejon, O.P. said that to be a Catholic journalist does not necessarily mean being in the service of the Church per se. Rather it is to be in the service of the truth.

”The Catholic journalist is a contributor to spreading the Good News to a world that badly needs it. More important than what people think of you is what your Christian conscience tells you about the way you carry out your work, about the way you live up to your vocation, and the mission assigned to you,” he said.

The forum pointed out that practicing Catholic Journalism has as many problems as it has ideals. Foremost among the problems is readership or audience.

Readers consider articles and productions with religious themes as boring and preachy. Mainstream media are inclined toward sensational topics.

The speakers pointed out the commercial media have always accented the negative.

“We have developed a culture of death, violence, sex, and fear,” said Remedios Torres Dillena, Radyo Veritas chief of reporters.

Fr. James Reuter, S.J., who has received several prestigious awards for upholding human values in the media, said that the best challenge to Philippine journalism is to be positive.

According to him, journalists always concentrate on emotion, putting forward themes that elicit immediate reaction from the audience.

“When a girl enters a convent, the news wouldn’t land in the newspapers. But if a girl was raped, it would be in the headlines,” he said.

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On the other hand, Arc Media executive director Amelia Canlas said that scarce funding for religious programs and the refusal of clients to be identified with any specific religious congregation remain obstacles to the viability of Catholic-oriented productions. Considering that ratings are the primary objective of the networks, religious programs tend to be disregarded.

Fr. Reuter said that Catholic journalists are also challenged to make Catholicism relevant to audiences with differing beliefs. He emphasized that the accent should be on “things that we have in common instead of focusing on things, which set us aside from others.”

In addition to these existing problems, Rapadas emphasized the imminent threat of Millenarism, which anticipates an instant and radical change to our chaotic present. The most humanly-attractive and also the most ambiguous expression of this concept is the New Age Movement, which collects and mixes Eastern metaphysical thought systems.

Rapadas said that this movement makes man understand a new paradigm that he is just a part of a universal reality, that his existence in this world is a journey towards self-perfection. This poses a belief that there is no element of salvation to man’s fallen nature.

“As Pope John Paul II said, don’t be deceived that new age is the renewal of religion. It is a subtle way of deviating focus from God,” Rapadas said.

Establishing a Catholic television channel and a daily Catholic publication still remain remote dreams. Although there are a few Catholic-inspired publications such as Kerygma and the CBCP Monitor, Catholic journalism is still not strongly practiced in the country.

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According to Rapadas, a plan to establish a Catholic daily was scrapped by Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin. Instead Cardinal Sin suggested that Catholic journalists penetrate mainstream journalism by contributing articles tackling religious matters to major dailies.

Meanwhile, Fr. Reuter called for the inclusion of Catholic Journalism in school curricula to inculcate at an early stage the proper values needed for such a practice.

The resource persons also suggested topics to consider in increasing readership of parish newsletters. These include the significance of the sacraments on a person’s life, appreciation for religious celebrations, current events in the parish, and testimonials on the manifestation of God’s love.

Bro. Cris Cellan, S.S.P., assistant director of the Creative Division of St. Paul Publishing and editor in chief of Home Life Magazine advised future journalists: “We should write in a language understandable to the people. We should appear to them as someone who is not preaching. We are not dogmatic. And we should try to give sufficient airtime to promote family values and propagate gospel values.”

Radio Veritas, Dillena said, will continue to evangelize the people by airing authentic teachings of the church, propagating Christian values, and delivering current events.

Fr. Tejon said that there is much need in the world for Catholic journalism. Corruption, nepotism, poverty, selfish interests, abuse of power, crime, drugs, and frustrated hopes and expectations are just some of the country’s social ills that need to be addressed.

“We should cooperate with the Church in her efforts to preserve and enhance the legacy of the Philippines as the only Christian country in Asia,” Fr. Tejon said.

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