Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Paweł Pasierbek – SJ – a director of the Polish papal section of the Vatican Radio

It was the first time the world had heard the pope’s voice on 12 February 1931 thanks to the radio waves. That day Pius XI made his first historic speech on radio and gave listeners his blessing ‘Urbi et orbi’. The pope was accompanied by Guglielmo Marconi – a radio inventor and also a creator of the first papal radio station. After a short time, on 20 March 1931 a historic event took place: the newly created Vatican Radio broadcast a message of Pius XI on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the encyclical by Leon XIII ‘Rerum novarum’ in many languages, including Polish language – it was read out by Fr. Tadeusz Zakrzewski, a rector of the Polish Papal Ecclesiastical Institute at that time. During the pontificate of Pius XI the fact retook place in 1937, when Fr. Feliks Lasoń SJ passed over the pope’s message on the Vatican Radio, on Mission Sunday, and on 17 April 198, when Fr. Prof. Jerzy Langman was reporting on canonization ceremony of St. Andrzej Bobola in Polish.

Managing the radio station was given to the Jesuits by pope. The first director of the Vatican Radio was Giuseppe Gianfranceschi SJ, a rector of the Gregorian University and also the chairperson of the Papal Academy of Sciences. In those years the general of the Jesuits Order was a Pole – Fr. Włodzimierz Ledóchowski who wanted the Vatican Radio to broadcast programs also in Polish. It was possible when in 1937 the aforementioned Fr. Feliks Lasoń arrived in Rome. He began his work in the papal radio, and on 24 November 1938 he celebrated the Holy Mass in Polish and broadcast the first radio program for listeners in the country. Since that day it has been 80 years!

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Polish Section of the Vatican Radio I had an interview with its current director Fr. Paweł Pasierbek SJ.

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - In the history of the world of Church and Poland the last 80 years were the time very rich with significant events: the Second World War, communist times, election of cardinal Wojtyła a pope, democratic changes after the year 1989. In addition there were enormous technological changes in radio broadcasting. How did all this influence the activity of the Polish section of the Vatican Radio?

FR. PAWEŁ PASIERBEK SJ: - The Polish Section of the Vatican Radio appeared a year before the Second World War. In the dramatic years of the world conflict the pope’s radio was ‘a voice of freedom’. German authorities wanted to have influence on programs broadcast from Vatican but they did not manage to. Therefore at the times of the war our radio was a real shelter of freedom. Thanks to it Pius XII could call all countries for stopping the war actions and returning peace. But the radio also played another particular role: it broadcast messages for war prisoners from their families and announcements concerning the missing during the war. Unfortunately, after the end of the war, Poland did not live normally, as our country was under the soviet regime. Poland was overwhelmed by censorship, Church was persecuted and deprived of its voice. In this new situation the Vatican Radio passed over information which the country lacked – information of religious character and about pope, as well as broadcast Holy Masses - for a few dozen years at 4.30 p.m. one could listen to the Holy Mass on radio. Since the year 1950 the Polish program has been broadcast twice a day. One day archbishop Szewczuk from Ukraine admitted that in those times he had listened to the Vatican Radio when kneeling. In our country it was similar and one can give a lot of such testimonies.

Maybe it is worth reminding that the primate Wyszyński called the Vatican Radio ‘a free pulpit’ although it was ‘a pulpit’ stifled by the communist authorities. But just at that communist time in the history of our country an extraordinary thing happened – exactly in the 40th year of the existence of the Vatican Radio Polish Section the cardinal of Poland was elected a pope. How did the election of John Paul II influence the activity of the radio?

My predecessors who worked for the Polish section in 1987 had to do a lot of work as nobody except for Poles knew cardinal Wojtyła and everybody came to us to get to know about him. We were trying to present the new pope to others and help them understand his gestures. Beside that our journalists had extra work during his journeys to Poland where Pope often improvised and it was necessary to translate his speeches on a regular basis. The representative of our section was always in a group of journalists accompanying the Pope in his foreign journeys which amounted to 104. In order to reach to as biggest number of listeners as possible with the pope’s teaching, we began to release cassettes and CDs with the pope’s speeches. John Paul II appreciated our journalists’ work, as he often invited us and visited on various occasions.

How much did the tasks of the Vatican Radio Polish Section change after democratic changes in 1989?

First of all, we managed to reach an agreement with the Program One of the Polish Radio on rebroadcasting our daily news and this cooperation has been till today. Thanks to it, it was not necessary to listen to the Vatican Radio on short waves on which the quality was not good enough, but it was possible to listen to on the nationwide aerial of the Polish Radio.
Beside that in Poland there appeared Catholic media which wanted to cooperate with us – we began to cooperate with over twenty diocesan radio stations which has been till today. Whereas Radio Maryja broadcasts our daily news at 4.15 p.m. every day for which we are really grateful. Thanks to it we can reach to about 2 million listeners in the country – we estimate it so.
Certainly, the cooperation has developed by other Catholic media: newspapers, magazines, portals which are willing to use our daily news.

In the recent years we have been witnesses of a real technological revolution in the area of radio broadcasting. What influence do technological changes have on the activity of the Vatican Radio?

I must admit that we are ‘traditionalists’ as we remain very faithful to radio waves – we do not resign from it. But, on the other hand, there are other media, mainly Internet. A few dozen years ago there appeared websites and our section decided to create its own website as one of the first editorial offices after the Italian section. We have been editing our website independently since 2003, placing service information on it. We are trying to make this website more and more attractive. But at present our section is also active on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, so that we could reach to people who use these means of information. We find it as a great challenge as the same journalists who prepared daily news, also work on our website and are present in social medias and this is a different kind of journalism. We must still learn it and get used to new media but we do it with great enthusiasm, seeing the sense of this activity.

In 2015 Francis made a decision about reforming Vatican media and established the Secretariat for Communication. The pope emphasized: ‘It does not only concern coordination or fusion of various institutions but creating a new body from the basis’. How did this radical reform influence the work of the Polish section of the Vatican Radio?

The reform has not been completed yet – this is a process which is going on. First of all, we must learn how to edit the website anew – but there is a base for all sections, 30 of which are functioning and all of them add their own material. I have already mentioned Facebook and Twitter. We are also building a closer cooperation among various media – for example ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ gives us new materials and we give ours to the newspaper. The purpose is that various journalists would not prepare the same materials. Beside that all media are already on one internet platform: www.vaticannews.va. There have also been changes in management, as there is no general director of the Vatican Radio, but there is a chief of dicastery who manages all media. It sometimes makes a contact difficult when there are some urgent issues.

How many people are working for the Polish section of the Vatican Radio at present?

There are five of us: Beata Zajączkowska, Krzysztof Bronk, Fr. Krzysztof Ołdakowski, a Jesuit – for many years the chief of the Catholic programme in the TVP and Polish Radio, Michał Król, a Jesuit – our apprentice and me, in the Vatican Radio for 3 years.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 51-52/2018 (23-30 XII 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl