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Catholic News Service turned 100 years old in 2020. Unfortunately, our birthdate coincided with the start of a worldwide pandemic, and many of our celebration plans were canceled. A highlight, however, was Pope Francis meeting with the CNS Rome staff in February 2021 to mark the anniversary.
At that meeting, Pope Francis praised the news service, saying it "has provided an invaluable contribution to the English-speaking world through its coverage of the church's mission of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ."
"In an age when news can be easily manipulated and misinformation spread, you seek to make the truth known in a way that is, in the words of your motto, 'fair, faithful and informed,''' the pope told the CNS staff. "I thank you for your work and I encourage you to continue fostering dialogue and honest communication between individuals and communities."
Unforeseen at the time of the anniversary was that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would be closing the domestic bureaus of Catholic News Service as of Dec. 30, 2022. The Rome bureau will remain open, however, continuing its award-winning coverage of the pope and the Vatican.
On the eve of the closure of the domestic offices in Washington and New York, CNS is reprising its series on the history of the news service. For more than a century, CNS has covered the major events in the life of the Church. It connected the U.S. Church with an international audience, and it informed millions of Catholics in parishes and dioceses across the nation about the events of the day as seen from a Catholic perspective.
From the beginning, this was the mission of the news service. The news service grew out of a need by Catholic newspapers for national and international news coverage that could supplement their local reporting. It was a visionary response by the U.S. bishops in cooperation with the Catholic Press Association to provide such coverage for the benefit of a growing network of diocesan and national Catholic newspapers.
Over the decades, the news service expanded the services it provided. In 1950, CNS opened a Rome bureau -- a providential move that allowed it to provide daily coverage of the Second Vatican Council.
It instituted a photo service that grew to include videos and multimedia presentations tailored to our digital age. It began a documentary service to chronicle important texts of the post-Vatican II church at home and abroad, providing content and context. It provided a catechetical series called Faith Alive!
And it took over the Office and Film and Broadcasting, expanding its coverage to include video games as well as the growing number of movies and shows available on streaming services.
CNS has, over time, come to see its role as not only bringing the world's news to Catholic readers but connecting Catholics with each other. Through its alliances with client publications, it brought the best of local journalism -- whether in Australia or Africa or the diocese next door -- to a worldwide audience. It made the voices of church leaders heard far beyond their chanceries. It partnered with other Catholic news gathering organizations to show the challenges and the genius of local Catholic communities around the world.
And all of this was done while meeting the professional standards of our vocation. We eschewed rumor for fact. We sought on-the-record sources whenever possible. We strove for balanced reporting, fairly presented. In service to the truth, we have been ever mindful, in the words of Pope Francis, "not to entertain prejudices or draw hasty conclusion ... to take the time needed to understand, to pay attention to the essentials." (World Communications Day Prayer, 2021)
The availability of a robust Catholic press to counter the fake news and false narratives in social media and beyond is critical for a healthy church to make its voice heard in an increasingly cacophonous world.
The articles that follow highlight the accomplishments of the past century and the contribution Catholic News Service has made to the church.
In the years ahead, the CNS mission will be carried on by Catholic News Service in Rome. The Rome staff's coverage of the Vatican in text, photo and video will be distributed in collaboration with the new wire service being launched by Our Sunday Visitor. We wish that news service all the best as it launches Jan. 1.
- Greg Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.