Archbishop Celli’s Tribute to Cardinal John Patrick Foley

Cardinal Foley served as President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications for 23 years, arriving in Rome in 1984 and serving until 2007, when the Holy Father appointed him Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He will always be remembered for his great kindness and goodness to others and for his profound professional competence in the field of communication. I have no doubt that anyone who had the good fortune to meet Cardinal Foley will have many stories and happy memories to share recalling his profound humanity, wisdom and humour. Beneath this, and at the very heart of the man, however, was the richness of his faith and the depth of his spirituality.

His love for Christ, and his passion to share the good news of God’s infinite love for every person, radiated from his being. His faith drove his zeal for promoting all that is best in communications and media, whether in a Church or a secular context. We all have many fond memories of his friendly manner and approachability, but also of the expertise he shared as an authentic media professional, academically trained in the field and working as a communicator and journalist in his formative years and eventually as editor of the archdiocesan newspaper of Philadelphia under Cardinal Krol.

In his time as President of this Council, he offered clear and farsighted pastoral wisdom in looking at the Church’s relationship and engagement with the ever-evolving fields of the media, new technologies, the nature of communication and its influence on culture. He promoted a vital internal dialogue within the Church on these issues, and also in broader international contexts, by calling on all communicators to seek for the highest and most noble standards of their profession. He stressed the positive potential of the media in informing, instructing and inspiring others, as a key component of the Church’s mission and pastoral outreach in spreading the Gospel. The many documents produced by the Council were the fruits of his efforts to shape the Church’s reflection and policy guidance. We think especially of texts such as The Church and Internet, Ethics in Internet, Ethics in Communications and Ethics in advertising. They offer a precious contribution to the Church’s understanding of and engagement with the new forms of media. I think the culmination of this reflection came with the publication of Blessed John Paul II’s last Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development.

Of great importance were his travels to and visits with communicators around the world, where with his gentle and encouraging presence, he offered guidance and support to many. He was a great advocate for the significance of communication in the building of a more just world. In Rome, his was a friendly face to the many journalists who came to cover the Vatican. For many, he was the person they turned to in order to make sense of the Church and its structures. For all, he was a welcoming and generous guide. He never neglected his journalistic roots and he particularly enjoyed his role as the English-language commentator for the Christmas and Easter celebrations presided over by the Holy Father. It is no surprise that he became known as "the voice of Christmas". His voice for many millions became synonymous with these great celebrations.

While there are many details and stories to be told, I would like to conclude with one which I think sums up Cardinal Foley’s profound faith and goodness. Before his final departure from Rome, a departure made necessary by his worsening health and inability to exercise his duties as fully as he wanted to, he visited the offices of the Council to say his final goodbyes to his collaborators of many years. It was an emotional moment for us, but his visit was a wonderful gift. What struck all of us was his great interior peace which was absolutely tangible. He was fully aware that his illness was terminal and that he was going home to die. Yet, he offered up his sufferings and spoke eloquently of our common journey back to the Father. Once again, he gave a simple yet powerful witness to Christian faith and our belief in and commitment to living, dying and rising in Christ. He understood that our lives are in the hands of God, especially in times of illness or distress. This witness was his parting beautiful gift to us. May he pray for us and intercede for us in all that we do. We thank the Lord for Cardinal Foley and for his great kindness, service and goodness.