In Catholic and secular media outlets alike, says producer for Canada’s Salt and Light television Sebastian Gomes, the election of Pope Francis last month “has taken the world by storm.”
Gomes was in Rome last month working as assistant to Fr. Thomas Rosica, chief executive officer for Salt and Light. Fr. Rosica assisted Fr. Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, during the papal transition.
Speaking with ZENIT about his experience serving the Holy See press office in the weeks leading up to the papal election, Gomes offered his perspective on how this new Pontiff is represented in the media. “In Catholic media,” he said, “we present the Pope in a very positive and hopeful light, not because he’s Francis, but because he’s our Shepherd.”
Gomes added, however, that the way Pope Francis is represented in secular media is significant. “Whether we agree with that presentation or not, we have to understand that the media is a part of our culture and essential for evangelization. That being said, I think Pope Francis has taken the world by storm. The vast majority of the secular media have done an excellent job in telling the authentic story: that this is an extremely simple, humble man, who loves Jesus and loves the poor. Whether you are a believer or not, few people are unaffected when the Gospel stares them in the face.”
“In a world with many crises and conflicts,” he continued, “a simple, humble Church that reaches out to those on the margins is a profound witness to humanity. Of course there are attempts to discredit the new Pope because of forces in the media that thrive on scandal, but they have a short lifespan when they aren’t factual.
“But let’s be honest; today the secular media is highly ignorant of Catholic tradition and teaching, and so the local church must be proactive in dealing with the media to help them tell the real story.”
Pope Francis and Vatican II
The Salt and Light producer also noted the significance of this papal election coming months after the Church commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.
“With the conversation about the anniversary of the council,” Gomes said, “there also came a conversation about what the authentic interpretation of the council is, and what authentic implementation of the council is. I think most people would agree that we still have a long ways to go as far as how the council needs to be understood and implemented. We know from history that it takes many years [to implement a council], and obviously the anniversary was an occasion to raise some of those questions.”
“With the election of Pope Francis, I get the feeling that the reality of the council has set in and taken some root. Because if you look at some of the things he’s done already – some of the gestures he’s made, some of the things he’s said – they’re very much in line with Vatican II teachings.”
Gomes noted how, since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasized his role as Bishop of Rome. “That’s the main thing about his ministry as Pope,” he said. “Think about how he spoke about collegiality, fraternity, and brotherhood amongst the cardinals when he met them after his election.
“Think about how this is a man who is coming from the global South, who clearly knows the reality of where the Church is going, where the Church is fading, and the different cultural expressions that the Church takes outside of Europe for example, which is where traditionally we have seen the bedrock of Christianity in general.”
Although less than a month since his election, there are indications of the global impact this pontificate could have, Gomes suggested.
“One of [these indications] is because he has such a heart for the poor,” he said. “That is a very serious thing because we still live in a world that has an immense amount of poverty. It’s going to be a strong challenge for the ‘First World’ to say ‘let’s take a look at the way we live, let’s take a look at what we value, how we prioritize our values, and how we live with each other, and in relation to what we call the global South.”
Gomes also noted Pope Francis’ strong personality as being a characteristic of his pontificate. “I don’t think he can be manipulated,” he said. “[H]e’s someone who, when he sees a situation, he’ll say ‘yes,’ or he’ll say ‘no,’ and you know it’s coming from him.”
“Even beyond the externals, he’s a man who’s very conscious of the realities of the Roman Curia — what goes on here at the Vatican. I don’t think he’ll be afraid to make very tough decisions if he needs to regarding reform, regarding the future direction of the Church.”