It's not often you get the pope to celebrate your birthday, even if it's your 100th.
Catholic News Service turned 100 in the midst of the pandemic, so it took us a little while to get our party hats on. Recently, Pope Francis met with our Rome bureau to acknowledge the anniversary while talking about the importance of our work and our service to the church.
"In an age when news can be easily manipulated and misinformation spread, you seek to make the truth known in a way that is, in the words of your motto, 'fair, faithful and informed,'" he told our staff.
It was a rare encounter between a U.S. Catholic news organization and our prime newsmaker. The pope's kind words paid tribute not just to the current employees of Catholic News Service, but to the hundreds of journalists and editors who have worked here over the decades.
Catholic News Service was founded in the shadow of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. Yet it was a time of great hope, as the church was experiencing a rapid growth of Catholic periodicals and diocesan newspapers. From its founding, CNS aimed to provide this growing market with national and international news of interest to Catholics.
In turn, Catholic media provided the church with its own voice as it resisted anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic forces at home and abroad while also speaking up for the rights of labor and the poor and providing formation in the faith.
Over the decades, CNS evolved as new technologies developed, adding functions such as photo and video services, opening a Rome bureau, and assuming responsibility for movie, television and now video game reviews. It also began an adult catechetical feature called "Faith Alive!" Through the depression and World War II, Vatican II and now the pandemic, it continues to serve Catholics around the world.
Wire services are the invisible workhorses of the news media. Secular agencies like The Associated Press and Reuters provide much of the breaking news copy on national and international events, allowing local dailies to focus their attention and resources on stories close at hand.
Catholic News Service does the same for Catholic media. While they focus on local issues and the activities of their own church leaders, we supply them with national and Vatican news stories, often giving these stories a context missing in secular news reporting.
News agency stories are often only identified with their initials after the dateline -- for example, Washington (CNS). They aren't designed to attract attention to themselves, but simply to provide readers with the information they need to decide if it is coming from a trusted source.
In a time of fake news, alternative facts and disinformation of all types, Pope Francis again reiterated in his talk to CNS the importance of "a clear and unbiased presentation of the facts.”
Journalists in both the Catholic and the secular press are under more pressure now than perhaps ever before. For Catholic journalists, the sex abuse scandals have been particularly trying, and the growing divisions in the church often means there is pressure to report propaganda, not news, or to satisfy one ideological side or another.
That's why having a moment to reflect with the pope on our history and our mission to serve the church was a rare and privileged opportunity.
Now it is time to get back to work. In our second century, Catholic News Service will continue to honor that trust that the bishops, our clients and our readers have placed in us. In the words of Pope Francis, we will always strive “to serve the truth with humility and responsibility.”
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].