Father Federico Lombardi, Director of Vatican Radio, writes about the station's illustrious history.
Vatican Radio, the esteemed Catholic station broadcast from the heart of the Catholic Church, is celebrating its 90th anniversary. In preparation for the day, Director of Vatican Radio Fr. Federico Lombardi has written about the station’s illustrious history. He noted that Vatican Radio’s mission has held firm through two of the greatest armed conflicts of the 20th century.
Vatican Radio was launched in 1931 with a clear mission: to be an instrument of the pope to proclaim the Gospel to the world and guide the Universal Church. This was the first time in history that the pope’s voice could be broadcast to Catholics outside of Italy. From humble beginnings, the the operation quickly expanded to reach Asia and Africa through a broadcast tower installed at the Vatican, affectionately referred to as “The Pope’s Finger.”
By 1936, the station had joined the International Broadcasting Union, which recognized the unique nature of the Vatican Radio Corporation as an extension of the Church. As such, it was allowed to broadcast with no regional restrictions. Able to reach listeners farther from Rome than ever, Vatican Radio began broadcasting in nine Western European languages.
World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, Vatican Radio became an invaluable beacon of information and hope. Pope Pius XII’s broadcasts carried one of the strongest voices in opposition to the rise of Nazism. Vatican News reports that Fr. Lombardi discussed the role Vatican Radio played during the war, noting that it took up the duty of relaying information about missing soldiers, civilians, and prisoners to listeners. He wrote:
During the war, however, Vatican Radio became famous for another service: it was in fact a fundamental instrument of the great commitment desired by Pius XII with the “Information Office of the Secretariat of State,” set up in 1939 to track down missing civilians and soldiers and prisoners; to provide information to their families and, if possible, to re-establish among them at least a link of greeting and remembrance.
Fr. Lombardi went on to explain that Vatican Radio only broadcast for about half a day at a time during WWII. Regardless of this brief schedule, it still reported more than 1.2 million messages during the years of the war.
Fr. Lombardi noted the important work that Vatican Radio conducted during the cold war. In order to reach the faithful who fell under Communist rule, Vatican Radio began broadcasting in 13 more Eastern European languages. The outlet became one of the primary conduits of faith practice for Christians living under Communist persecution.
He noted that listening to these broadcasts in Communist-held countries came with harsh penalties. Those who were caught were subject to prosecution, which could result in sentences of jail time and even capital punishment. Regardless of these dangers, the faithful still tuned into the inspiring, faith-guiding broadcasts. At the cessation of the cold war, Fr. Lombardi noted, more than 40,000 letters of gratitude were sent to Vatican Radio from Ukraine alone.
In recent years, Vatican Radio has expanded its efforts to include New Media. It currently runs a YouTube channel in four languages, and on the social media side, it manages six different Twitter accounts. It attempted to launch video broadcasting networks several times in the 20th century, but was unsuccessful. It was not until the 90s that Vatican Radio began producing videos in earnest. Today, video content is largely disseminated by the Italian-based TV2000 Broadcasting Company.
Father Lombardi commented in closing:
Vatican Radio thus reached maturity, with increasing professional and journalistic quality, which makes it not only the beating heart of daily communication in the universal Church — “communication for communion,” as the Council hoped — but also an active protagonist in the wider world of Catholic and lay communication in the life of the Church.