An interview with the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Viganò, on his new book, “Fidelity is Change”
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A global poll just out by WIN/Gallup shows that Pope Francis has become the most popular world leader. How is this possible? To gain insight, Aleteia sat down with the man the pope appointed to lead the renewal of Vatican communications, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, Prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for Communications.
In this interview, Msgr. Viganò takes us behind the scenes of this great pontiff, as portrayed in his latest book, “Fedeltà è cambiamento. La svolta di Francesco raccontata da vicino”. [Fidelity is change: an up-close look at the Francis turn-around]
Msgr. Viganò, in your book you analyze Pope Francis’ “revolution of gestures”. What do you mean by this?
Anyone involved in communications knows that, generally, it takes great strategy to create a media event. Pope Francis has this ability, and his every gesture becomes an event. We are witnessing what I call ‘everyday event-making.’ What are the reasons behind it?
He is a pope who has introduced us to a new style. He has abandoned the rituals, the courtly formalities … and so, somehow, he is very striking. No? Some boys and girls say: ‘He seems like one of our relatives.” What do they mean by this? That there is a closeness, a proximity. I feel welcomed exactly as one of my family welcomes me.
How you do explain the change in Pope Francis’ personal relationship with the media since his election as pope? Archbishop Bergoglio didn’t have this kind of relationship with the media.
Pope Francis carries deep within himself a certain distance from the [media] panorama. He isn’t concerned about public opinion, about what people say. And this is why, regarding the several small cases that have emerged after his off the cuff remarks, he is absolutely not worried, because he is a man who knows that this is all vanitas vanitatum [vanity of vanities]; it’s the media carnival event that’s here today and gone tomorrow. However, as pope he realizes that, because the Gospel spans oceans, he has to undergo the burden of being at the center of media attention.
At the beginning of his pontificate, I explained to him that he needed to put an official signature on it, that the television camera was necessary at certain times in his work, but he never allowed me.
He is a man very much on the outside logic of performance. He never loves being at the center, being the main character. Of course, he knows that, in order to be close to those who are far away, he has to submit himself to this never-ending camera stream that chases and sometimes pursues him.
This pope is a ‘television pope,’ but personally he doesn’t watch TV…
He is a ‘television pope’ in a paradoxical sort of way because in the television landscape, where everything is shouted, and where there’s a spill of oftentimes empty words, his style is characterized by a low voice and tone, and by a very slow pace. This discontinuity, especially in the face of words that hit on the central questions of every man and woman — I’m thinking of work, wounded affections, the dream of hope — creates a great deal of attention, regardless of whether one is a believer or un-believer.
First Twitter, now Instagram (Instagram.com/franciscus), which is pure image. Is this a new leap in papal communications?
I believe so. Something very interesting comes across when a story is told through images, and so the idea of telling the story of a pontificate through images that touch the heart and emotions allows us to enable those who follow us to enter into the warmth of closeness with Pope Francis. And, I have to say, it’s been a unique story on Instagram: in 12 hours we gained more than one million followers.
Pope Francis is loved by all, including unbelievers. Why? What’s the secret to the consensus?
I think the secret is the truth of being human. That is, he is a man who has left behind a conceptual way of speaking based on logical argumentation, and he tells stories, he gives examples. Even his way of commenting on the Gospel during Mass at Santa Marta has now become a literary genre, a way of re-telling the Gospel by asking questions that are your questions, and mine.
This is his strength. And then, because they are words that have an important depth, the depth of his personal story. Even those who don’t believe admire a man who is great enough to call problems by their name. Sometimes, in the face of problems, he doesn’t have answers. When children ask him why little, innocent ones die, he says: “I don’t know the answer.” But he tells them what he does, that is, “I look at Jesus on the Cross.”
What is the Pope’s plan for reforming the Church?
He stated this at the outset, both in the Sistine Chapel and the day after, during his meeting with journalists, as well as during the March 19, 2013 Mass at the beginning of his pontificate: a poor Church for the poor.
That is, a Church that abandons the manner typical of the imperial, parastatal churches, to become a Church which is salt. No one eats salt on its own. Salt helps to accentuate flavours, it helps others to grow.
This kind of Church he has in mind: a Church that is a field hospital, a Church going out, a Church whose strength is precisely in its weakness. The Church is not an NGO. The she cares for the poor, for the least ones, for the marginalized, is not because she is a social agency, but simply because she has the Gospel at heart. We know from the Gospel that Jesus cares bout this and, faced with sin, Jesus doesn’t look back, to the sin committed, that is, but he looks to the future: “your sins have been forgiven, go and walk.
Can you tell us about your work with Pope Francis? How do you manage communications?
It’s very complex at the moment, since we are involved in the process of reform.
Pope Francis is very careful about this. With the Council of nine cardinals, he wanted to reform not only the media but also the entire information system. We have a communications system that plays too much catch-up and recovery. We don’t have proactive communications. We still are not familiar enough with the various forms of media, with the various audiences. With Pope Francis the work is always one of thorough analysis, because there are some things which Pope Francis does that he accepts having filmed, but he doesn’t want them spread abroad.
On the one hand, he understands the documentary value but, as we know, he sometimes prefers a free, frank dialogue, and he does not want to give this up. At the same time, he realizes that — as Pope — in this sort of frank and open dialogue there may be nuances which, from a theological perspective, are not so perfect. So there is always an ongoing dialogue. In this dialogue, he is a very intelligent, capable, open and frank man. But, we are at his service. He is the Pope and it is right that he is the one to decide.
The book “Fedeltà è cambiamento. La svolta di Francesco raccontata da vicino” is available in Italian through Eri Rai http://www.eri.rai.it/internaLibro.aspx?idlibro=1038
Translated from the Italian.