Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920. On the hundredth anniversary of his birth, memories and tributes have rightly multiplied for this great witness of faith, already raised to the honors of the altars. I wish to add a small voice to this great choir by remembering with simplicity and emotion some experiences lived in his service in the Vatican communications field.
A confident vision of communication and the media
John Paul II showed himself to be a great communicator from the very first moment of his pontificate, as soon as he appeared at the Loggia of the Blessings on the evening of October 16, 1978. I recall the famous, spontaneous words on the day of his election – “The cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome from a distant country… If I’m wrong you’ll correct me…” and his remarks during his first outings from the Vatican helped to break down barriers. The speech on the day of the inauguration of his pontificate – “Do not be afraid, open the doors, indeed, open wide the doors to Christ!” – made a deep impression for its expressiveness and the strength of his tone of voice.
As far as relations with the media are concerned, it was above all the first press conference on the plane with journalists on the first international trip (in January 1979, to Mexico) that the new style of this pope emerged and consolidated his positive relationship with the press. Paul VI had also passed among the journalists to greet them on his trips, but there were no questions and answers. Who knows if John Paul II had gone among the journalists precisely to converse with them, or if the interaction began by chance? In any case, while before it had not even come to mind to ask the pope questions, it subsequently became automatic. The personality of the new pope was so naturally inclined to a more direct and spontaneous relationship with the media.
Perhaps the prolonged experience of a world without freedom of expression had given Karol Wojtyla a positive view of the reality of the media of the Free World, which he felt to be potential allies in his commitment to give voice to the expectations of the oppressed Churches and peoples that they would be liberated, which did indeed happen, contributing to an epochal historical change that remains one of the notable features of his pontificate. In any case, certainly, for those who were and still are accustomed to a traditional diffidence – or at least restraint – among ecclesiastical and curial circles toward the media, John Paul II’s attitude was profoundly innovative. He can be defined as optimistic, more ready to see the positive possibilities than to fear the pitfalls that are certainly not lacking.