Bishop Reed: Catholic communications is 'journeying alongside people in faith'

(OSV News) -- Catholic communications is more than "delivering a message," but rather "journeying alongside people in faith," said the chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops' communications committee.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of Boston shared his thoughts on the topic as part of his June 19 keynote address at the Catholic Media Association's annual conference, held this year in Atlanta June 18-21.

Incorporated in 1911, the CMA is a Chicago-based organization of Catholic publishers and media professionals in North America and beyond.

Bishop Reed, who also serves as president of the Archdiocese of Boston's CatholicTV Network, reflected on the role of Catholic communications professionals -- who include journalists, diocesan and organizational communications directors, graphic artists and multimedia content producers -- particularly amid the three-year Synod on Synodality, which centers on "communion, mission and participation."

Noting that the theme of the 2024 CMA conference was "Connect in Atlanta," Bishop Reed -- who gently mocked his Boston accent at the start of his talk -- pointed to the "many ways" in which Catholic communicators "share the same road."

Even more important than mutual professional interests and collaboration is the spiritual bond that unites Catholic communicators, he said.

"Our baptism, our common faith, our discipleship, bid us to be connected with the Lord Jesus, whose mission we share," said Bishop Reed, whose address was infused with prayer, song and numerous references to the Holy Spirit.

Synodality "isn't magic," he said, citing recent remarks by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas -- who is shepherding the synodal process in the U.S. -- that the synodal process is "a call to humility in discerning what we are about."

Bishop Reed quoted "Communio et Progressio," the Second Vatican Council's pastoral instruction on social communication, which states that "all men of good will … are impelled to work together to ensure that the media of communication do in fact contribute to the pursuit of truth and the speeding up of progress. The Christian will find in their faith an added incentive to do this."

"These words say it well," Bishop Reed remarked.

He emphasized that "our faith is local," touching "individuals, families and parishes," and pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who in his message for the 58th World Day of Social Communications said, "Information cannot be separated from living relationships."

The pope "would want us to do our communication work in a way that fosters compassion and connection," said Bishop Reed. "We don't just transfer data."

"The commission of Jesus to communicate the Good News, to evangelize the world from the individual, the family, and the parish all the way up is a task not to be taken lightly and not to be done alone," he said. "So we need each other's support."

Among those Bishop Reed specifically named in his address were Chieko Noguchi, executive director of communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cindy Wooden, chief of Catholic News Service Rome; Maura Moser, host of Catholic Current; and "national news outlets like OSV News, America, National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic Register (and) EWTN."

Bishop Reed admitted that "to be Catholic communicators, sharing the Gospel within our contemporary culture, is a tremendous challenge, and it seems to become more so every year.”

"As a matter of fact, every day when you wake up in the morning, you just never know what you're going to find," he said, underscoring "the hard work that it takes to inform, to educate and to evangelize."

Additional challenges include reaching youth and young adults amid a swiftly evolving technological landscape, one where the church needs to be present, he said.

Yet "effective communication with youth and young adults is not just about adopting new tools and technologies," which "come and go," said Bishop Reed. "It's about understanding their world, about being authentic, telling compelling stories, using engaging content, listening actively, addressing real issues and being consistently present."

He noted as well that "our communications must be relevant to the real issues that young people face today … such as mental health, social justice, relationships, finding purpose in life. We need to show how faith intersects with these areas, offering hope and guidance and support."

At the same time, he said, "being doctrinal is important, but it isn't often the first approach" in reaching younger generations, since "building trust and engagement takes time," and must incorporate a "two-way" approach to dialogue and listening.

"Our communication must come from the heart," said Bishop Reed. "This means not only sharing our successes and joys, but also our struggles and our doubts. In our vulnerability, we can connect most deeply with people, especially young people."

He exhorted Catholic communicators to draw strength and guidance from prayer, and said, "I hope you see your good and important work as a genuine ministry in the church."

- - - Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @GinaJesseReina. Contributing to this report were Peter Jesserer Smith, OSV New national news and features, and Maria-Pia Chin, Spanish editor at OSV News.