The papal broadcasting station

Weronika Nowakowska

The quarters of Vatican Radio is in the middle of the passage leading from the Vatican to St Angel's Castle. Popes used this way in dangerous situations. The board of the radio is satisfied with this location. The building is blended in the architecture of the busy Via Palazzo Pio. From here all places are within walking distance: a few minute walk to St Peter's Square, to get to other Roman sites one can take a bus or use the underground.

Task for Jesuits

It was Pius XI who gave rise to the initiative of the work on a transmission station in 1929. The work to build the radio station was entrusted to Guglielmo Marconi, and the first director became Jesuit Father Giuseppe Gianfranceschi, physicist and mathematician.
The first radio message in Latin, delivered on 12 November 1931 on the inauguration of Vatican Radio, made a big impression in the world. Millions of listeners could hear the Pope's voice. During the first transmission the radio presented a bulletin about the activities of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. After the death of Pius XI papal journalists followed the course of the conclave and the inauguration ceremony of Pius XII, which was transmitted in nine languages.
Today the headquarters of Vatican Radio is located in the Palazzo Pio, in the vicinity of St Peter's Square. A smiling receptionist greets me on the ground floor. After a while Fr Leszek Rynkieiwcz, SJ, comes to meet me. He has lived and worked in Rome for over thirty years. We begin our tour from the hall of Marconi. The hall is decorated with a huge mural depicting all popes who spoke through the Vatican microphones, from Pius XI to John Paul II.

The challenge of John Paul II

'My first visit to Rome was short. Next I was summoned to support the image of John Paul II' pontificate in the media', says Fr Rynkiewicz, member of the General Director's Office. 'They needed people who spoke Italian and were interested in journalism, Although the Jesuits have managed the Radio since its beginning two-thirds of the personnel are laymen. The Radio employs 384 people from 59 countries. The transmissions are conducted in 45 languages. The daily transmissions include 65 hours of programmes; about 50 hours are devoted to news and almost 11 hours to music, and liturgical events embrace three and half hours. There are also permanent programmes prepared in advance. On Sundays listeners can hear 'The Cinema - Vehicle of Human Desires', on Wednesdays 'The teachings of the Holy Father', on Thursdays 'The History of the Polish Embassy to the Holy See' and on Fridays 'On the ways of Modern Evangelisation'. There are also musical programmes, which the old and young listeners like very much.

Way to paradise

We visit the Arabic section. The Arabs are very friendly, give us sweets and say that they like Poles very much. The Vietnamese room is quiet and peaceful. There is only one journalist working at the moment. Her family died during an escape on a boat. She arrived in Italy and found a job in Vatican Radio. She is very diligent. And so are journalists from Japan, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Chine, Ukraine and Poland. Fr Jozef Polak, SJ, Director of the Polish Section, has just returned from a press conference. He opens a big box of chocolates. Fr Stanislaw Tasiemski, OP, joins us. He does not only work as a reporter but also takes cares for Polish pilgrims. Both priests are joking that Vatican Radio is treated as a way to paradise.
'Journalists are excellently prepared for this job and they find jobs in other competitive stations without any problems. RAI Television of Italy draws talents', explains Fr Rynkiewicz. 'Vatican journalists use various technological achievements. They work only six hours a day. They can decide if they want a day off or additional fee for their work on Sundays and holidays. Good working conditions and a feeling of security as well as the possibility to raise their qualifications cause that the rotation of workers is small. And their motivation for work is increasing.

Treasury of wisdom

Fr Leszek Rynkiewicz, SJ, is proud of the radio library. Journalists can use 24 dailies, weeklies and 250 illustrated newspapers in various languages. There are 8,000 books, 22 encyclopaedias, and 22 dictionaries. The musical archives hold 8,000 compact discs, 4,000 tapes and 700 records. Electronic files slowly replace written texts. The number of subscribed periodicals decreases every year. The radio is a treasury of papal voices. It has 13,000 recordings of papal messages and ceremonies.
'High technology is everywhere', says Fr Rynkiewicz. 'Journalists seldom read papers and books. The Internet is at hand.'

On one plane

Setting out on a journey the Pope takes reporters of Vatican Radio. They ensure broadcast and satellite information services in six languages. The Director of Vatican Radio, the programme director and two technicians as well as about 50 journalists fly on the papal plane. They give news about the visit from morning till evening. On the plane there is time for common meals and a short talk to the Holy Father.

Prime ministers, actors, writers

The radio draws people whose pictures appear in magazines. They treat interviews as great honour. Through the radio listeners from the farthest corners of the world got to know the Italian actress Monica Vitti, the singer Gianni Morandi and the writer Susanna Tamaro. Franco Zeffirelli, the film director, Luca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo and Giulio Andreotti, the Italian senator, have visited the radio office, too. Mrs Hanna Suchocka, Polish Ambassador to the Holy See, often visits Radio Vatican.
'We will never forget the programme with Fr Karol Wojtyla', says Fr Rynkiewicz, 'We admired his naturalness, passion and unpretentiousness. He sat in front of the microphone and immediately had a dialogue with listeners. We hosted him twenty-one times. We named after him one of our studios.'
When Benedict XVI entered Vatican Radio for the first time he made papal journalists shy. In spite of that they saw that the Holy Father could listen to them and had a good sense of humour. The Poles, who worked in the Polish section, welcomed the Pope with a loaf of bread and salt and gave him a recording entitled 'Bene detto in polacco' [Well said in Polish] with his funny statements spoken in Polish.

"Niedziela" 12/2007

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