As of this week L’Osservatore Romano is once again being printed and distributed in the United States. This news — already anticipated and drawing much attention – is important and very positive. It marks a new and promising stage in the 150-year old history of the Holy See’s newspaper and its circulation. By the 1 October 1861 issue, less than 100 days after the birth of the daily, readers learned that the pages printed in the Pope’s city were not only being read “throughout the whole of Italy, in Switzerland, in France, in England and in Ireland” and that they were translated every day in Paris, but they were arriving “even in America”.
However, only in several periods did the size of the print run that one would expect of the Holy See’s newspaper correspond to this very rapid expansion around the world. Thus, in 1961 Cardinal Montini — who during his years at the Secretariat of State had followed it closely — recognized without embarrassment that the sore point of L’Osservatore Romano was “its limited circulation”, after the golden age in the 1930s and during the Second World War — when the Holy See’s independence guaranteed the freedom of the daily in a panorama of suffocating censorship and conformism engulfing Italy and Europe.
Already in the 1930s a plan had been conceived — though never realized — to send the newspaper by telegraph to Argentina (where a Spanish edition was later published from 1951 to 1969). A series of regular issues in various languages, which were printed in the Vatican, took off in the period following the Second World War, and it was not by chance that they grew even more after the Council.
Following the innovation of the German-language edition, produced in the Vatican and printed in Germany since 1986, a turning point was reached at the end of the 20th century. New technology made sending and printing the Spanish and English editions more possible: from 1997 in Peru and from 1998 in Mexico and the United States (here the enterprise was taken on by the Cathedral Foundation of Baltimore which continued in that capacity until 2011). They were followed by India, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Portugal. Starting this year, the paper’s website (www.osservatoreromano.va) has been publishing news in seven languages every day.
Back in the USA — that vast country, “secular precisely out of love for religion” as Benedict XVI described it his his address to journalists during his flight to the United States in 2008 — was made possible for the Holy See’s newspaper thanks to an agreement with one of the most lively and deeply rooted of the Catholic publishing houses in the States, Our Sunday Visitor. With the aim of enabling American faithful and all readers to have direct access to a paper which looks ever more closely at the world.