All media has a narrative. That’s just part of their job. In fact, that is their job: to tell a story.
Yet, depending on unique experiences, points of reference, beliefs etc., the same story can be told differently: accentuating different things, touched by different things, angered by different things.
So, for Pope Francis’papal visit to the US, concluding in Philadelphia for World Meeting of Families, WMF, just how was that story told? What was the narrative?
Despite media’s own angle and unique perspectives, one might think that family would had been the dominant narrative since Francis came expressly to celebrate it in Philadelphia, but no.
Americans are all caught up on politics. That became evidently clear during Francis’trip and it’s all part of what makes him such a novelty in the US. Since no one can box him into a political party, they don’t know what to do with him.
Time , for example, made the point in an article touching upon Francis’various US speeches: “The pope’s message confounded obvious partisan divides. At different times, he called on them to support immigrants, end the death penalty, fight climate change, defend the family and oppose religious fundamentalism while safeguarding religious freedom.”
While the Pope is well beloved by US media, he also mystifies many due to this wide range of concerns: whose side is he one? Some media insightfully reflected that this does not make him a stigma or self contradictory figure, simply a faithful messenger to the Gospel he preaches: “His spirituality runs counter to the way we Americans tend to be religious, namely by being political. . . Politics of the gospel cut sideways across our narrow concepts of "left" and "right." For instance, Catholicism stresses the sanctity of human life. Thus, it opposes abortion, a conservative issue, and it opposes the death penalty, a liberal issue.”( Huffington Post)
Faith transcends politics. The Pope is neither left nor right, he is simply Catholic, embracing the entirety of Catholic Social Doctrine. Francis articulated as much himself to a journalist on his flight from Cuba to the US. From this, one could conclude along with the National Catholic Register that media’s incapacity to “box”Francis says more about Americans than the Pope: Namely, faith no longer influences politics, but politics influences faith. Pope Francis thus is a shock to the system because he doesn’t fit in it.
From Politics to the Church, and a Changing Narrative:
So deeply seeped in a political climate, media often translate that into how other entities are perceived and presented. The Church included.
Well, just how are politicians divided? Over issues. Because Francis and American Bishops ‘focus’on differing issues, media tend to pit them against each other. This clearly came up in regards WMF, where Francis was hosted by Archbishop Chaput: “The visit is also shaping up as one of the most interesting ecclesial pairings of the pope’s trip. His host will be Chaput, an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage, who takes a harder line on church teaching in the archdiocese”(CBS). Simply because the Pope has not made these issues the spear head of his pontificate, as poverty for instance, once famously stating, “it’s not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,”Francis is presented in conflict with Chaput, and American Bishops at large (NYTimes).
Yet, WMF opened an opportunity for that narrative to shift. As noted in Time, CBS, Crux, and others, Chaput and Francis are actually quite in accord. While only spending $200,000 annually on pro-life work with one full time employee, the Archdiocese puts $4.2 million toward fighting poverty (CNS) with a full crew of employees on board.
Thus, American Bishops may be staunch defenders of life, marriage, and religious freedom, but they by no means overlook the poor. The Pope, on the other hand, may not speak of those issues continuously, but he by no means overlooks them: “In his address at a White House . . . Francis began with a defense of the institution of the family and also a strong plug for religious freedom, even endorsing the call to vigilance of the US bishops”( Crux).
To say otherwise is simply a false narrative.
Concluding with World Meeting of Families, as did the Pope:
Concern for the poor was also manifest at WMF. Francis joined the Festival of Families, the end of a 4 day Congress taking place during his tour up the East Coast. Between key note speakers and break out sessions, all related to the family, other activities were underway such as ‘Helping Hands,’an initiative to bag food of poor in West Africa.
Though the Pope stole the media thunder, the narrative for WMF described it as international, inter-religious and climactic. Families worldwide participated - 20,000 participants from 100 countries - drawing people from all walks of life: families, clergy, religious, and young adults.
It was not only a crossroads for all generations, but also religions. Media often noted the inter-religious aspect of it. For instance, the keynote address by dynamic duo - Boston Archbishop O’Malley and Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren - frequently appeared ( Associated Press, Washington Times, The Boston Pilot). Jewish speaker, Naomi Schaefer Riley, tackling “How interfaith marriage is changing America,”was another a point of interest (National Review ).
WMF was also presented as climactic, being transformative for the Archdiocese ( Vatican Radio). Philadelphia’s recent past has been seeped in scandal: clergy sex abuse, embezzlement and debt. WMF, however, crystallized by Francis’presence, was a moment of healing, where eyes could be directed to the future and a new era in the life of the Church in America could spring. In Chaput’s own words, it was “a turnaround moment that renews the spirit. And I think that’s why the Holy Spirit guided Pope Benedict XVI to choose Philadelphia as the place for this World Meeting of Families.” (Associated Press, also in Washington Post)
Media narratives can mirror that reality, but approach and present it with their own paradigms, which are naturally limited. As with all stories, in order to get the most accurate narrative, one must go directly to the source, the words and actions of the protagonists themselves.