A POLISH VOICE FROM VATICAN
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Fr. Leszek Gęsiak SJ – a chief of the Polish Section of the Vatican Radio
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - Since 1938 the papal radio station has been broadcasting its program in the Polish language. Could Father mention the most important events in this long history of the Polish Section of the Vatican Radio?
FR. LESZEK GĘSIAK SJ: - It is an extremely difficult question, There were really many important events and it is somehow difficult to arrange them in a hierarchy. Each period had its great moments. So, I will draw attention to three extremely important periods. The first one was undoubtedly the Second World War. The Polish Section had been established a year before it broke out. So, the war became a fact, and the Vatican radio was giving words of comfort and hope to Poles in Poland and on various frontiers, where fights were going on.
Another particular period was surely the post-war time, in which socialistic welfare was being built in Poland. It did not have any place for political freedom, nor for religious freedom. And it was just the Vatican Radio which was one of radio stations whose signal was being muffled by communist authorities, and which was being searched for with great effort in radio sets in whole Poland. It was Vatican from where prayers for freedom were coming, and after some time, from Vatican chapels also Sunday Eucharist in Polish was broadcast.
And, finally, the third period. It was the election of the Polish Pope for the Holy See. This pontificate was systematically changing not only the Church but also political order in Europe. It was, certainly, a great call for the Polish Section. For, the Pope often spoke Polish language which became an inseparable element of the papal liturgy. Polish journalists from the Vatican radio were accompanying John Paul II in his many pilgrimages and travels around the world. From the point of view of the radio work – at that time, the Polish Section had much particular work and responsibility.
– During a long period of your activity there were enormous technological changes, as well as an internet ‘revolution’. What influences did these changes have on the activity of the Vatican Radio?
– In fact, we are witnesses of extremely quick social and economic transformations in the world. So, the contemporary times require also quick and definite transformations of the whole media culture, in which today’s man is very immersed. On the one hand, every radio station must respond to these changes of time, on the other hand it must also take care of his own identity and the purpose of his existence. The Vatican Radio often asks these questions to itself and answers them with constant transformations, technological changes, participation in new forms of passing information and deepening the message of faith.
Today the papal radio station is something much wider than simply a radio station. A lot of listeners of our programs do not listen to traditional radio sets any more. They listen to us via Internet, on various digital platforms, via special mobiles and on tablets, we are being searched for on social networking, such as Facebook or Twitter. We are present on Internet TV channels, or on digital platforms. Programs of the Vatican Radio are rebroadcast via many radio stations all over the world. So, the potential range of the papal function of the medium is really enormous.
However, we cannot forget about those countries to which modern technical solutions from various sources do not reach quite quickly. Here I think mainly about poor countries, engrossed in military conflicts, governed by regimes hostile to the Church and Christ’s believers. Hence, where there are no possibilities of using the modern transceiver systems, the Vatican Radio is using old broadcasting ways, which proved to be reliable throughout decades. Here it is all about short and medium waves. In some countries, especially the African and Asian ones, it is the only way for the papal voice to reach there. Old radio sets, often very simple ones, deprived of electronic gadgets so popular in Europe, are the only way of receiving the Vatican news. Hence, there is necessity to connect what is modern with what has turned out to be reliable in the Vatican radio station throughout decades.
The Polish Section is only a small part of the Vatican Radio. As long as it is possible, it also tries to meet the current requirements of our times. Our programs are broadcast in Rome traditionally on ultra-short waves. We are also present on digital platforms, through which our programs are broadcast via terrestrial transmitters all over Italy. All programs are available in live through satellites of Eutelsat and Intelsat, and also via Internet, both in live and at any moment on demand. In Poland they are rebroadcast via Program I of the Polish Radio, Radio Maria, diocesan radio stations affiliated in the Forum of Independent Catholic Radio Stations, and also via many other independent and social radio stations. On this occasion we thank everybody for their effective and long cooperation!
– Not everybody knows that the Vatican Radio, including the Polish Section, changed into a real Internet Information Agency. Could Father tell us anything about it?
– Maybe it is too wide formulation but there is a little truth in it indeed. It concerns mainly this part of our work, which is not directly connected with the activity of the Pope or Vatican offices. For we try to inform our listeners also about important events in a way connected with the Church and faith all over the world. Here I mean mainly such issues about which big media do not want to speak. We want to show that in the whole world, among various cultures people want to live with evangelical values. We also want to remind and show that also in the XXI century our Christian brothers in many places of the world are suffering from enormous persecution because of their religion. We speak about those who are courageous in this world to be witnesses of Christ’s values, even if they do not go together with the political correctness or clichéd social trends. We speak about the Church inscribed in various cultural groups, celebrating religious feasts in an unknown way for us. So, a significant part of our work is watching world press agencies and watching events in this respect.
It is also important that listeners of Polish programs of the Vatican Radio practically live all over the world. It is confirmed by letters and e-mails, which we receive in the editorial office. Thanks to Internet our programs are listened in all parts of our globe, where Poles live. A lot of our compatriots visit our websites everyday (pl.radiovaticana.rv) and our Facebook (www.facebook.com/radiowatykanskie) started and run with the cooperation of scholars from the Foundation ‘A work of the New Millennium’. Every day we send to everybody interested a free information bulletin (pl.radiovaticana.va/mailing_list.asp), through which our news get directly to email boxes of interested people. So, new communication means have surely widened the group of our listeners.
We are constantly strengthening the cooperation with other radio stations. In March 2013 we undertook a close cooperation with independent and not associated diocesan radio stations in any broadcasting network in Poland. The result of the cooperation are, among the others, publicist programs prepared in these radio stations and broadcast in our transmission bands. We have also been cooperating with the Catholic Information Agency for many years, with which we create ‘Two Minutes for the CAI’ in our ‘News’. Shortly speaking – despite few centres we are present in many places, and we are also opening our station for others.
– On 14 November you met with pope Francis during a general audience. What impressions did Father have from this meeting?
– The general audience which the Holy Father gave to the Polish Section on the occasion of the forthcoming jubilee of 75th anniversary of its establishment was a special distinction and great joy for us. A day before we received a phone call that Pope would meet with us. And it really happened so.
And I was personally impressed by this meeting. I had already had an occasion to meet with the Pope earlier but that meeting had a special character. The Holy Father was very direct, friendly and full of sense of humour in a talk with us. Anyway, his humorous question broke an artificial distance at the very beginning. In St. Martha’s house a program director of the Vatican Radio Fr. Andrzej Koprowski SJ was with us then. It was him who introduced us to the Pope and also mentioned that the Polish Section had already been 75 years old. Then the Holy Father looked at us and asked: ‘Does it mean everybody is 75 years old?’
At the end of the meeting we gave Pope the first copy of an occasional record which we had prepared for this diamond Jubilee. It has voices of 75 people recorded in various years by the Vatican Radio. We had just chosen so many of them, so that they would symbolize 75 years of the activity of the Polish Section. Pope was carefully looking at the record. It has a character of a Jubilee souvenir, its distribution is limited and it is not going to be commercially distributed. It is supposed to be a homage and a sign of gratitude for all those people related to the Polish Section, who supported the papal work of proclaiming the Good News about Christ for three quarters of the century in our mother tongue with their work, heart, knowledge, wisdom and love to the radio. On the cover there is a picture of a press hall of the Vatican Radio, presenting Gugliemo Marconi, the founder of the Vatican Radio station, and eight popes during whose pontificate the radio station was fulfilling its evangelical and informative mission.