Radio Vatican at 85 years old

2016-02-12 Vatican Radio

At 85 years old today, Radio Vatican is like a wise grandmother who continues to maintain her youthful enthusiasm.

By and large, the image and role of grandparent and, in particular, a grandmother in Africa is still one of great honour. Grandmothers are loved and cherished the most.

Grandma will allow you things that your parents forbid, will spoil you and unlike your parents will not judge. She is wise and knows secrets about your parents they would rather you didn’t. On a serious note, though, we all recall how at the peak of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa, it was the grandparents who took upon themselves the role of raising many traumatised orphans and what a difference they made and continue to make!

Today, Friday 12 February marks the 85th anniversary of Radio Vatican.

The radio is still a beloved grandmother, especially in Africa. Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Radio’s Director General often says that, “In spite of its age, Vatican Radio maintains a youthful enthusiasm as it carries out its mission of communication and evangelization, created to serve the Pope’s ministry.”

To celebrate this eighty-fifth birthday milestone, we thought perhaps we might share with you a couple of extracts or rather a recent sample of some of the letters, emails and even phone calls that we get from our listeners here at the English Africa Service of Vatican Radio.

One recent letter that has touched our hearts was from Patrick Alaba Ogunlusi of Ado- Ekiti state in Nigeria. Of his own initiative, he has formed a Vatican Radio listening club. He writes, “the major activity of the club is to listen to Vatican Radio and discussing the good programmes.” We have told Francis that we are grateful for his initiative. It makes us want to do more.

Another is from Libya. The image one gets of Libya nowadays is that after Muammar Gheddafi everything in that country has collapsed. Yet, very regularly we receive feedback from a listener in Libya’s Al Zawia town. The letters posted from the town’s post office faithfully reach us, almost on a monthly basis. We are grateful to Ahmed’s letters and the many good things he says about us.

Dahmani listens in from a town in Algeria and never fails to thank us for our “wonderful daily Africa programme.”

What do you do with an invitation letter, that comes via your post box, for Pope Francis, requesting his presence at the launch of a Catholic prayer book in the Anambra state of Nigeria? This is precisely the question I put to my colleagues here at the Radio. “Well, you pass on the invitation letter to Pope Francis!” they all chorused. And so we did. We forwarded the letter to Pope Francis with an apology that we had opened it because it was addressed to us only to find his invitation letter enclosed inside.

I suspesct that Pope Francis probably could not make it to the village of Umuosolu for the prayer book launch because just this week, we received in our post box two prayer books written by Chief Stella Ngozi Ufoegbunam of Umuosolu village in Enugwu Adazi town, Anambra state. The prayer books were launched notwithstanding the Pope’s absence. I must say though that the prayer books are two beautifully and professionally designed copies. Perhaps the prayer books could benefit from having an imprimatur?

Peter Ekpe of Yaounde in Cameroon writing last week is not amused that we have not sent him a Vatican Radio calendar since 2013. “Permit me to say that since 2013, I have not received a calendar from you. I wish to plead for the 2016 Vatican Radio calendar,” Peter writes. Actually, no need to plead, Peter. The truth is that the 2016 Vatican Radio calendar has not come our way either. As for the other years from 2013, I do not know how our dear listener dropped off our mailing list. We have taken note. We can only plead with Peter to be patient with us.

I could go on sampling the letters. Suffice it to say that, we also get many requests for internships from university students. We can only take so many at a time and every year we have taken between three to four African students who spend on average of three months with our section. Other listeners want to know how they can become our Vatican Radio Africa correspondents. From around the world, we receive Shortwave reception reports that we equally cherish. Our regular reception reports come from America, Finland, Australia, Japan and many other places such as people on cruise liners sailing the world. I must admit that we struggle to respond to all the mail on time. The volume is sometimes overwhelming.

As listenership to the Shortwave frequency dwindles, our growing partners in Africa are the many small Catholic radio stations that re-broadcast our daily programme on their FM radio stations. Radio Vatican gets an outlet for its programmes and they, in turn, are assured of daily up-to-date information about activities of the Holy Father, Pope Francis and many other important developments within the Holy See. We also share news from Africa that the Catholic radio stations send to us through an audio file sharing arrangement that Vatican Radio has established. The news we receive is either broadcast or published on our website.

And yes we do get, once in a while some hate mail too. For example, some of our non-Catholic audience are particularly irked by our constant reference to Pope Francis as, “the Holy Father.” Some have gone out of their way to remind us that the Catholic Church needs to repent because we bear the mark of the beast with the number 666.

Once in a while, we get some pronunciations and a few facts wrong and this really rubs some of our listeners the wrong way. Nothing goes unnoticed and they do not spare us: A priest based in Zambia was not particularly impressed that I laboured to pronounce (on air) the Archbishop of Kaduna’s name, Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso. He bluntly asked, couldn't I have practiced a bit before going on air? Another priest or seminarian in Kenya wondered what made us think that the newly appointed Bishop of Garissa, Joseph Alessandro was born in Italy when in fact he was born in Malta? To both, I offered our profound ‘mea culpa’ and pledge to do better.

I hope that Guglielmo Marconi and Pope Pius XI, the founders of Radio Vatican, understand the pressures of deadlines and slip-ups that many a radio has to contend with. Hopefully, the two founders are also pleased that the radio they started eighty-five years ago is still of great service especially to Africa. In the meantime, here at Vatican Radio, we are all now learning the art of a multimedia radio that is not only audio-based but one that is also present on social media and other newer digital platforms.

Happy 85 years to Radio Vatican!

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)

Email: engafrica@vatiradio.va

(from Vatican Radio)