RTÉ excels at covering a very special visit

RTÉ excels at covering a very special visit

I’d need the full newspaper to do justice to all the media coverage of the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, so I’ll stick to some of what stood out for me.

First off, hats off to RTÉ’s religious programmes department and the outside broadcast units for the live coverage of last weekend’s papal visit and the creation of a strong sense of historical occasion. And there has to be an honourable mention for EWTN and Salt and Light TV, especially during the Pastoral Congress at the RDS.

I have to say that earlier in the week I found the current affairs coverage relentlessly negative. In various programmes, the message was given that if you went to the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park you’d get measles, you’d be burgled, you’d faint from the walking and you might even die – there were even reports of a temporary morgue!  And that’s not even to consider the overwhelming emphasis on child abuse and LGBT issues and the ignoring of large elements of the congress.

Of course these controversial issues are hugely significant, and need to be addressed effectively and urgently but I thought all sense of proportion was abandoned as agenda driving seemed to get the better of news coverage.

Things got much more positive as the visit got under way. One of my favourite moments from Saturday’s live coverage, Pope Francis In Ireland (RTÉ), the most modest of moments, was the visit to the Capuchin Day Centre for the homeless. To see Pope Francis and Bro. Kevin Crowley together was a tonic to the harshness of much that passes as public discourse.

Compassion, empathy and respect were the order of the day as Pope Francis met and greeted those who availed of the services of the day centre.

I was also very taken with those moments when Pope Francis withdrew into private prayer, in Knock and in the pro cathedral, and with all the wonderful music at the Croke Park concert and the Phoenix Park liturgy.

On Saturday morning, RTÉ Radio 1 had a special edition of The Leap of Faith with Michael Comyn at the time of the Pope’s arrival, covering the event and having one of the better and more positive discussions of issues surrounding the visit. Fr Bryan Shortall, Capuchin, was delighted about that visit to the Day Centre. Theologian Ann Thurston had issues with the Church, but was glad that now the Pope was here, Irish hospitality had kicked in.

References were made to conservative voices and those on the ‘right wing’ though I felt that it would have been an idea therefore to include some of those conservative voices on the show. Author Elisabetta Piqué, who has known the Pope personally since his days in Argentina found him to be shy, authentic, still himself, a man of great inner peace and freedom, not easily tagged liberal or conservative.


Songs of Praise (BBC1, Sunday) had a very positive treatment of the visit without ignoring the challenges around child abuse. Presenter Claire McCollum spoke to some enthusiastic pilgrims from Birmingham diocese – one lady thought being at the event in Croke Park “better than winning the lottery”, while the Hope family, aptly named, spoke of the joys of family life. Tina Hope liked showing her children what it was like to be part of the Catholic family. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, spoke about the character of Pope Francis, describing him as a man of “inner peace”, “as tough as old boots” but full of warmth.

That warmth certainly came through during the visit – especially in the personal encounters with a whole range of people, from bishops, to abuse survivors to the homeless.

On balance, post visit coverage started fairly positively. On Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) on Monday morning, The Irish Catholic editor Michael Kelly gave some useful background on the Archbishop Vigano controversy, on Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) Minister Katherine Zappone and abuse survivor Marie Collins told how they found Pope Francis good at listening and hearing. On Today With Pat Kenny (Newstalk), guest hosted by Jonathan Healy, there was a positive vox pop from the Phoenix Park by Henry McKean, impressed by the numbers who attended despite the hurts and the daunting trek, and several members of the traveller community were delighted about how prominently their community figured in the weekend’s events.

Let’s see how it develops from here.


Pick of the week
EWTN, Saturday, September 1, 8 pm

Joseph Pearce explains how J.R.R. Tolkien used fantasy as an art form to communicate some of the most profound truths of the Faith.

Channel 4, Saturday, September 1, 10.15 pm

(2014) Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton star in Ridley Scott’s epic retelling of the story of Exodus.

BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, September 2, 8.30 pm

Covering a wide range of topical religious and ethical issues.