By Contyna McNealy
BUFFALO — Great people. Great fellowship. Great renewal. This year’s Catholic media conference provided close to 300 media professionals with wonderful opportunities to learn from and collaborate with colleagues from across the U.S. and Canada. For three days, June 24 – 26, the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center bustled with participants eager to attend the many workshops and master camps offered. As a first time attendee, it was inspiring to meet and break bread with so many gracious, passionate people in the Catholic media industry.
The conference kicked off with a welcoming reception and dinner which featured a tribute to Buffalo’s very own, Tim Russert. Before his death in 2008, Russert was a tenacious journalist, bestselling author, commentator and renowned host of “Meet the Press.” The Diocese of Buffalo along with the Buffalo Historical Museum showcased a video to honor Russert for his standard of excellence in journalism and his unwavering commitment to family and faith. His tribute deepened my appreciation for the work of good editors and journalists. They have such an important job in that they are not just in the business of reporting news and evangelizing; they are responsible for accurately recording the history of the church.
The following night, Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe echoed the conference’s theme “Power of the Word.” She urged Catholic communicators to use their voices to “speak for the voiceless.” A Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sister Rosemary devotes her life to empowering women held captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.
Her work as director of St. Monica’s Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda, provides these young women and mothers with hope, education and training. She called upon the Catholic media to not “sugarcoat evil” and to continue to cover the atrocities inflicted upon the Ugandan women. Telling the story “keeps it from happening again.”
Shortly after her keynote address, Sewing Hope — a documentary profiling Sister Rosemary and the young women she nurtures — aired at the conference. It was with this small group of attendees that Sister Rosemary viewed the film in its entirety for the first time. Despite the film’s account of immeasurable tragedy, it was all overwhelmingly eclipsed by its revelation of amazing love. Sewing Hope is available for viewing on Netflix streaming.
Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media in Canada, also addressed the Catholic media. Noticing a trend in certain media coverage of Pope Francis as being only surface news, he appealed for media representatives to “go beyond the surface and discover the story within the story.” Father Rosica challenged journalists to fully read the Pope’s closing 2014 address to the Synod of Bishops on the Family and his more recent environmental encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise be to you). These works “tell the deeper story” of the Pope’s “message of mercy” and his overall “revolution of normalcy.” Journalists were encouraged to communicate the full depth of the Pope’s message to a world truly in need of mercy and normalcy. Salt and Light’s 2013 documentary, The Francis Effect, was also shown as part of the conference schedule. It can be purchased or rented on demand online at saltandlighttv.org.
In addition to two powerful keynote speakers, the presentations of awards and recognitions for excellence in Catholic media were equally inspiring. The Catholic Press Association (CPA) presented the Bishop John England Award to the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Cardinal George was recognized for diligently advocating for the First Amendment rights of Catholic newspapers. His featured columns in the Catholic New World tackled the seriousness of religious freedom and were often reprinted in diocesan publications across the country. Joyce Duriga, editor of the Catholic New World in Chicago, received the award on his behalf.
Former president of the CPA, Greg Erlandson was awarded The St. Francis de Sales Award for his prestigious career in Catholic media. In 2014 he served as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Erlandson is currently president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division in Huntington, Ind.
The CPA’s awards banquet and presentation was held in the evening on the last night of the conference. This special ceremony recognizes excellence throughout the Catholic press industry. Mississippi Catholic was among this year’s winners. With the entry of the 2014 special supplement, Follow Me: A Journey to Priesthood, the staff of Mississippi Catholic placed second in the category of “best coverage of a routine sacramental event.” The 20-page supplement featured in-depth articles on the history of priesthood in Mississippi and profiles of Fathers Binh Nguyen, José de Jesús Sánchez and Rusty Vincent, who were ordained last May at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.
The theme of the conference took on a deeper meaning for me. I appreciated how “Power of the Word” speaks to the important role of Catholic communicators. The experience of learning from and listening to individuals with such high standards in communication moved me from the status of simple appreciation to absolute admiration.
It was such an honor to represent Mississippi Catholic and the Diocese of Jackson at this year’s conference. I look forward to having many more priceless opportunities to laugh, share stories and troubleshoot problems with people who can truly relate to the unique and rewarding experience of working for the church.
(Contyna McNealy is the creative services coordinator for the Diocese of Jackson and the production manager for Mississippi Catholic.)
By Contyna McNealy