Back in February, I had heard that the Catholic Voices team would be coming to the Archdiocese of Boston. A few folks I know gave me a nudge to apply. I wasn’t sure I was a good candidate, but I was curious nonetheless.
Catholic Voices is a program that takes committed Catholics who want to be better
spokespersons witnesses for the Church in the public square.
Being a catechist, my usual role is one of teacher and evangelizer. I’m someone who is usually working with people who are already interested in the subject matter at hand. Now and again, in church settings, I get questions hostile to the faith, but mostly, the folks I meet are there to learn and grow in their faith, and the natural disagreements we encounter at times within the learning process are usually handled in a civilized manner, not with media cameras and microphones rolling!
To be honest, I had some mixed feelings about applying for Catholic Voices, since I tend not to want to engage in fighting over church teaching with other people. I know a lot of good people who do that very well, the um, creative engagement with the folks who want to fight or diss the church for her stances on things. There are some great apologists out there for the faith, but I did not consider myself one of them. I feel that my ministry is to convey the faith with as much love and friendship as I can muster. People have free will and they can accept of reject what is said. I considered myself a person whose strengths are for those Catholics who are in the pews and need a deeper experience of the faith.
I never saw myself as someone who might reach beyond the pew to the media channels that exist beyond the Catholic media that I am already engaged in.
Yet, with the subsequent publishing of my book, I felt it was time that I sharpen my abilities to handle media settings, especially those opportunities that were outside of the Christian and Catholic media circles. Not to mention, any writer and speaker can always use improvement in sharpening one’s message to one’s audiences.
So I applied to attend the Catholic Voices training session, complete with a questionnaire, bio inquiry, even creating a video short of myself explaining my faith to fallen away Catholic. To be honest, I tend to be a bit self-conscious in front of the camera, and usually avoid it at all costs. I prefer radio segments to all the prep that has to go into a television interview. So I figured the video portion of my application might sink the whole thing. Not to mention, I tend not to want to argue with people who get hot under the collar where Church issues are concerned — have I mentioned this already? — preferring instead to keep the relationship intact so we can live to discuss things on another day. Truth be told, in years past, I’ve had problems with my temper, and the last thing I want to do is discredit or dishonor the Lord or the Church because of a sinful misstep on my part.
Save for the grace of God, I still applied, and to my shock, Catholic Voice accepted me!
So in April, I met with the varied group of willing volunteers to undertake some education and practical training for radio and television interviews where the Catholic faith intersects the public square.
Catholic Voices first began in the UK in anticipation of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic visit to those countries…
Catholic Voices is a project which began in the UK to improve the Church’s representation in the media, above all in news programs and debates. It started in 2010 with the six-month training of 24 lay people and a priest in preparation for the UK visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Our appearances on over 100 programs at that time made a big impression on bishops and broadcasters alike and we were urged to continue.
Since then the project has grown in many ways in the UK and has spread quickly around the world: there are currently 10 active CV groups in the world, in Europe, the Americas and Australia. (–From the UK website.)
Catholic Voices USA is lead by Kathryn Jean Lopez, the amazingly prolific Editor at large for National Review Online and contributor to numerous mainstream and Catholic periodicals and websites. (Until her recent appointment to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s team, Kim Daniels was co-director.) Kim was present to give the training in Boston alongside Lopez, and others at the Pastoral Center at the Archdiocese of Boston. These men and women shared their vision for a better Catholic media presence when news is breaking, and when Catholic ideals and mission need better explanation to the public at large.
Catholic Voices USA states its mission:
The mission of Catholic Voices USA is to put the Church’s case in the public square. We speak as Catholics who know and love the Church and have the authority of direct lived experience. We’re media-friendly and studio-ready, and offer an authoritative (but not official) group of articulate speakers who make the Catholic case in interviews and debates — clearly, reasonably, and compellingly. We offer a new apologetics for the new evangelization.
Catholic Voices USA is a direct response to a call of the Holy Father to U.S. bishops in January 2012. He said: “we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” He added: “The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.” (From CV USA website.)
Besides the training in media techniques, we received advice for dressing for interviews, hair, make-up, courtesies, and interview do’s and don’ts. The team also presented Catholic viewpoints and perspectives on the current religious liberty debate, that will be a lively topic in the weeks and months ahead.
I really learned so much, especially what my weaknesses are, and areas that I need to work on. I recently contacted fellow Catholic Voices “attendee”, Dana Dillon, PhD, a theology professor from Providence College. She shares her insights on the program:
I really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with a group of Catholics who take their faith so seriously and yet come from a wide variety of professions, age groups, and parishes.
One of the key books informing the Catholic Voices approach to media is Austin Ivereigh’s How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. I found this approach, especially its attentiveness to listening for what really drives an interlocutor’s concerns, very refreshing and helpful.
The Catholic Voices leaders were really wonderful at giving feedback that was both critical and constructive. Although each one of us had our interview attempts picked apart, with plenty of areas to work on identified, the whole process was one of encouragement and affirmation in the midst of a real challenge to improve.
I really appreciate Dana’s comments, especially since she stands up before her students all the time to talk about the faith!
The book she recommends by Austen Ivereigh was profoundly helpful and I plan on re-reading it this summer. For anyone in Catholic new media or ministry, it is chock full of great suggestions for presenting the faith… like “be positive”, “shed light not heat”, and the reminder to “think in triangles”, that is, have three points and try to keep the discussion centered on those three points. If you get to two of the three points in the interview you’re doing good!
Catholic Voices is currently running a workshop out at the Catholic Media Conference in Denver, and will be soon bringing the training to other cities. Bookmark their website! I highly recommend that you consider attending!
update: comments have been disabled because I’m not at my desk to moderate them.