On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of English Africa Service of the Vatican Radio, the virtual event that took place Friday, July 17, Catholic communicators in Africa have been urged to tell stories about ordinary people who do not make their way into secular media.
In a widely publicized webinar to commemorate the Catholic radio’s decades of service to the people of God in Africa, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Nigeria’s Oyo Diocese who was one of the speakers at the event urged communicators on the continent to tell “legitimate stories about everyday ordinary people, which the days’ pervasive pop culture hero environment would wish to ignore or to minimize.”
“I think that perhaps this is where we should place more emphasis in the future; the stories of ordinary everyday people that the media today does not really cover,” said Bishop Badejo in his opening remarks at the event.
The Nigerian Prelate who spoke at length on the topic, “Master Weavers of African Stories – Promoting everyday heroes as solutions to Africa Challenges” further called upon Catholic communicators to use the forms of communication that can easily be understood by Africans while weaving their stories.
“Weaving g authentic stories about Africa requires that the weaver gets acquainted with the fables, the riddles, the tales, the songs, the proverbs and the idioms of the continent,” said Bishop Badejo.
Moderated from Rome by Fr. Paul Samasumo who is the head of Vatican Radio’s English/Swahili Africa Services, the two-hour event was followed by over 200 participants on the Vatican News YouTube channel alone. Other participants, including Bishops in charge of Social Communications Commissions in different African countries also logged into the webinar using other digital platforms.
Presenters at the meeting included Dr. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect, Dicastery for Communications, Fr. Federico Lombardi, President of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI-Vatican Foundation, Mother Mary Claude, Superior General of the Religious Institute of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Nigeria, Ms. Sheila Pires, a South Africa-based journalist with Radio Veritas who also reports for the Vatican radio in the Southern African country and Bishop Badejo.
Bishop Badejo who is also the President of the Pan Africa Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) encouraged Catholic communicators in Africa to tell stories of positive change especially of people who had shown courage that could be emulated.
“Never give up on projecting the positive stories of African icons of selfless service, love, tolerance, fidelity, forgiveness and reconciliation,” the Nigerian Bishop said and gave the examples of icons such as the martyrs of Uganda, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and even Leah Sharibu, the Nigerian teenager who refused to renounce her Christian faith to regain freedom under the threats of terrorists.
“These and similar stories offer us positive content around which we must weave our experiences,” Bishop Badejo who turned 59 on July 13 said, and added, “Anyone who, driven by a force that makes them courageous enough to confront difficult situations and to combat evil without becoming evil themselves and can exhibit a sign of heroism can and should be celebrated in our stories.”
The Nigerian Prelate’s sentiments were echoed by Dr. Ruffini who urged Catholic communicators to tell positive stories of Africa, much as they also strived to expose the ills on the continent.
“Dear communicators, tell the story of Africa. Tell the challenges of Africa but tell also about the success and the people who are making a difference in their communities. Let your stories build bridges. And let them create a dialogue where there is a conflict,” Dr. Ruffini said.
According to him, the Church communicator is not just a witness of work but “he or she writes and says but mainly of what he or she does in society.”
“I am glad that this webinar is based mainly on the theme of Pope Francis’ message for what Communication is like,” the Rome-based Prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications said, and added, “The Holy Father spoke about the importance of telling stories. There are thousands and thousands of stories of good needing to be told.”
Fr. Federico Lombardi who is the immediate former Director General of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Press office highlighted the relationship between the Vatican Radio and Africa saying that radio had always been important for communications in Africa.
“I know how the radio was important for communication in Africa,” Fr. Lombardi said, and added, “I can also witness that Vatican Radio during the years had a very strong engagement to serve Africa with enthusiasm and with Joy.”
According to the Italian-born Jesuit Cleric, radio was the first big medium through which the Pope could speak directly and freely to the entire world.
“It (radio) was important especially in the 1940s when there were many wars and divisions between countries in the world. The Pope could send the messages of peace to all people during this very hard time,” said Fr. Lombardi.
He added that towards independence in many countries in African and in Asia in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Vatican Radio developed programs that promoted development of people and the Church in these parts of the world.
The Vatican Radio, the Jesuit Cleric said, had intensive programming especially the visits of different Popes in Africa.
He highlighted a particular case of Pope John Paul II who visited at least 39 countries in Africa, with the radio accompanying the Holy Father to cover his great assemblies in each of the African nations he visited.
Meanwhile, speaking on the topic, “Witness of Nigeria’s women religious working in some of the country’s challenging environments” at the July 17 virtual event, Mother Mary Claude, Superior General of the Religious Institute of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Nigeria said Religious Sisters in volatile parts of the country risk their lives on a daily basis.
“Ministering in Nigeria, especially the northern part of the country where these Religious Sisters dedicate their lives working for the Church can really be life-threatening and sometimes, may obstruct the mission of the Church in those areas and it generates a lot of fear, sense of anxiety, hostility and for religious women ministering in these areas and the people they serve,” said Sr. Mary.
In Nigeria, there are 64 registered and recognized Religious Orders whose members constitute the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious. Out of these, 7 are Monasteries, 42 are Missionary Institutes and 15 are Indigenous Congregations.
About 17 Religious Congregations work in very challenging areas of the west African country that the nun says are characterized with political zoning.
The Nigerian nun who doubles as the President of the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious said the ethnic, political, religious and economic crises had led to social and psychological trauma to the sisters who were caught up in the crises.
In other incidences, the crises have led to relocations, and closure of religious congregations in some of the hardship areas.
Among measures that the religious congregations have been forced to implement to protect sisters working in difficult areas is allowing them to pull off their religious habits to avoid being identified and targeted especially during a conflict.
The hardships, however, the Nigerian nun said, “provide an opportunity for the Sisters to demonstrate their commitment to Jesus Christ Crucified more closely.”
“The African continent has been smeared with racial, tribal and ethnic discrimination that have continued to create hatred and division among people,” said Sr. Mary.
She added, “As we celebrate this milestone of the 70th anniversary of the evangelical mission of the Church in Africa, it is our prayer that this great continent be renewed and build a vibrant human community void of all forms of discriminations and anchor on those values with which God naturally endowed Africa, values of cooperation, social inclusiveness, generosity and kindness, deep sense of the sacred and respect for human life.”
And providing the context of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in the South African context, Johannesburg-based journalist with Radio Veritas, Ms. Pires said the apartheid’s wide gap between the minority whites and the poor blacks in the southern African country was still evident and had been pronounced during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It has been 26 years of democracy and the COVID-19 pandemic has manifested itself as a class pandemic with grave implications especially for the poor,” said Ms. Pires.
She added, “The black majority (who) continue to dwell in informal settlements and communities living in rural areas are still waiting for the provision of healthcare facilities. Sadly, it is still the white minority that can afford private education for their children, access to private healthcare and much more.”
The radio producer and presenter at the only Catholic Radio in South Africa said that July being a moral regeneration month in South Africa, the role of radio presenters was “to promote gospel values through the airwaves.”
“As a Catholic media practitioner, I believe in ongoing dialogue” she said, and added, “I strongly believe that as communicators, we ought to use such platforms to build lives, to instill moral values and as we consider to observe Nelson Mandela month, let us strive to promote social cohesion.”