Benedict XVI’s visit to Vatican Radio: ‘Dialogue in service of truth’

In the wake of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we recall his historic visit to the headquarters of Vatican Radio in 2006, and his invitation for Vatican media to engage in the “great dialogue of truth”.

By Veronica Scarisbrick

On 3 March 2006, Benedict XVI took part in a live broadcast of Vatican Radio during a visit to its headquarters to mark the Radio’s 75th anniversary.

There were not many occasions where the late Pope Emeritus would speak off-the-cuff in public without the help of a written text prepared beforehand.

Two examples of unscripted speeches were his address to the seminarians of Freiburg during his Apostolic Visit to Germany, on 24 September 2011, and his famous, wide-ranging remarks on the Second Vatican Council, made during a meeting with Rome’s parish priests and clergy, on 14 February 2013, a few days after his shock resignation, in one of his last interventions as Pope.

During these rare occasions, he was able to express his thoughts about the Church as a theologian in an immediate and profound way.

These off-the-cuff speeches by the late Pope Emeritus also include the brief speech he made at Vatican Radio, during a live morning broadcast on 3 March 2006.

The late Pope Emeritus blesses the staff at Vatican Radio
The late Pope Emeritus blesses the staff at Vatican Radio

Historic visit

It was an historic event, given that a Pope had never before taken part in a live broadcast at Vatican Radio at a round-table discussion with the presenters.

Starting with the inaugural radio message of Pius XI, broadcast on 12 February 1931, in the presence of Guglielmo Marconi, the Popes had used Vatican Radio as a means to broadcast official speeches to the Church and the world, such as the historic radio message by Pope Pius XII on the eve of the Second World War or the last speech pronounced in Latin by John XXIII, already gravely ill, on 26 May 1963.

And during that same visit to Vatican Radio on 3 March 2006, Benedict XVI had prepared a written speech which he delivered as planned in the Marconi Hall of the radio headquarters at Palazzo Pio, after earlier visiting all the various offices.

“I gladly came among you, to this beautiful venue of Palazzo Pio, which the Servant of God Paul VI wanted to make available to Vatican Radio. I greet you all cordially and thank you for your welcome.”

Benedict greets the Indian programmes of Vatican Radio
Benedict greets the Indian programmes of Vatican Radio

Shortly before that speech, Benedict XVI blessed a plaque dedicated to St. John Paul II on the fourth floor of the building in a studio (No. 3) named after Karol Wojtyla.

The dedication was in memory of the radio programmes recorded in that particular studio by Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, before he became Pope.

After the blessing of the plaque, Benedict sat down at a table in that same studio in front of the microphones together with several journalists from the 105-Live channel (now Radio Vaticana Italia) for a special live programme dedicated to his visit.

Benedict XVI replied in Italian to some of the journalists’ requests with a greeting that turned into an inspirational speech of just under three minutes centred on the radio as an instrument of dialogue in the service of truth.

The late Pope Emeritus prays in the chapel of Vatican Radio's headquarters
The late Pope Emeritus prays in the chapel of Vatican Radio's headquarters

Radio a ‘force for peace’

The late Pope Emeritus intervention was not tightly choreographed beforehand.

The head of the 105-Live channel, Seàn-Patrick Lovett, had only raised the possibility to the organizers of the papal visit via the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, that the Pope after his brief blessing could greet the listeners tuned in that moment.

But no one knew for how long the Pope would speak and nor did the Pope himself know how his participation would be introduced.

The three journalists present in the No. 3 Studio gave a brief presentation about their radio channel in Italian where they stressed the commitment to dialogue with people in Rome, with young people, other faiths and cultures.

Benedict XVI responded immediately with remarks underlining the "beautiful reciprocity" created by this service, "not only by speaking but also by welcoming the responses, in a true dialogue to understand, to respond to and thus to build the family of God". And he added:

“This seems to me to be the purpose of a means of communication such as this: to help build this great family that knows no borders, in which, in the multiplicity of cultures and languages, everyone is a brother and sister, and thus represents a force for peace. I would like to wish all those who are listening to me at this moment in time the real possibility of feeling involved in this great dialogue of truth.”

‘At service of truth’

Continuing his remarks, Benedict stressed the mission of the pontifical radio station as a voice of dialogue, a voice of peace, precisely because it is "at the service of the truth":

“As we know, there are conflicting voices within the world of the media. All the more important is the existence of this voice that really wants to put itself at the service of the truth, of Christ, and thereby put itself at the service of peace and reconciliation in the world.”

Without abandoning the sobriety of his official interventions as Pope, on that occasion Benedict XVI not only confirmed his ability as an academic to respond to questioning but also his ability to improvise during a live broadcast with a few simple and incisive words, in a language that was not his native tongue, which went straight to the heart of the theological conversation.

It was a few exciting minutes live on air that showed how Benedict was not just a theologian but also an expert and inspirational communicator.

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03 January 2023, 11:49