THE time in Rome is 8.30... and in the studio today, I'm Jacky Sutton with Vatican Radio's news in English. In the headlines this morning: the French say 'yes' to Maastricht hut only just. Talks on Bosnia continue, as more die in Sarajevo. And we've a special report on the ecumenical monitoring group in South Africa..."
Every day (except Sunday) Vatican Radio's most popular service, the Four Voices News, is broadcast to the anglophone, francophone and Italianspeaking communities across Europe. Letters from New Zealand and Iceland also testify to the determination of the Catholic Church to use the forces of technology, "the miracle of science", as the Director General Fr Pasquale Borgomeo termed it, to broadcast its message of information and evangelisation across the world. The Spanish service was cut in 1489 although Hispanic listeners still receive regular bulletins through the regular Spanish news service.
The three 15-minute transmissions are tailored to suit the needs of their respective audiences. Reports from correspondents and in-house interviews are used as well as obligatory Vatican material to ensure as much variation as possible. On Sunday there is only one evening broadcast which has greater emphasis on Church news, and every evening there is a section entitled The Church in the World. Items ranging from the most recent pilgrimage undertaken by Pope John Paul H to the ways in which native Americans are blending traditional religious practices with Catholic ceremonies are broadcast at these times but the main emphasis is international current affairs.
The Four Voices programme was initiated in 1975 to provide pilgrims coming to Rome for the Holy Year with news from home. It proved so popular that it evolved into a regular news service. Vatican Radio has correspondents in various countries filing "on spec" or in response to desk officers' requests. The editing, interviewing and compilation of a show is the responsibility of the news readers; every morning there is an overall editorial meeting but individual teams are given great flexibility.
Vatican Radio itself began life as a scientific experiment in the hack garden of St Peter's in
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1931. The first transmitter was built by Marconi and Its early programmes consisted of recondite exegesis of scientific experiments conducted in Latin. Today it is a £20 million per annum institution with over 400 staff. It broadcasts to the 900 million strong international Catholic community in 35 languages and across all five continents. The Radio is funded entirely by the Holy See and is run by the Jesuits as a noncommercial concern. Salaries are low by Italian standards; Four Voices staff salaries start at 1.7 million lire (around £960 a month depending on what the pound is doing) and stringers and assistants are paid 30,000 lire (L15) per transmission.
Jobs at Vatican Radio are eagerly sought-after however. Apart from the prestige attached to employment with the Holy See, a contract, be it for six months or life, is worth its weight in gold in recessionbound Italy. Moreover, as employees of a separate City State, the staff do not pay Italian income tax. They are also able to enjoy cut-price goods, from cigarettes to food,
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and petrol from the Vatican store. Every week a train loaded with EC surplus pulls Into a Stazione San Pietro allowing Vatican employees the same privileges as those enjoyed by United Nations staff.
As the final edition of Four Voices goes off the air, the massive antennae at Santa Maria di Galeria, 12 miles north, beam shortwave broadcasts to other continents while programmes in Ukranian, Polish, Chinese and Lithuanian fill the airwaves. Most of the letters that the station received from behind the Iron Curtain were expressing gratitude for the Mass broadcast every Sunday, but the Radio has also diversified to encompass music since 1974, Studio A has been developing a wide repertoire of classical and popular tunes.
On its 60th birthday last year Pope John Paul spoke of the radio as being inspired by the same "missionary concern which from the beginning of my pontificate has led me to travel to the ends of the earth".
As he prepares for his next apostolic pilgrimage to America for the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Europeans on the continent the Holy Father will have at his sides not the brown and black robes of the early mission fathers but a microphone-wielding army of modern media hams.