VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped the legacy of the late Cardinal John P. Foley would inspire others to make the Gospel known through mass media.
In a telegram to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia Dec. 12, the pope expressed his sadness and condolences for the death of Cardinal Foley, who died Dec. 11 in Darby, Pa., after a battle with leukemia. The College of Cardinals now has 192 members, 109 of whom are under age 80 and eligible to vote.
“I recall with gratitude the late cardinal’s years of priestly ministry in his beloved Archdiocese of Philadelphia, his distinguished service to the Holy See as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and most recently his labors on behalf of the Christian communities of the Holy Land” as grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the pope wrote.
The pope prayed that the cardinal’s “lifelong commitment to the church’s presence in the media will inspire others to take up this apostolate so essential to the proclamation of the Gospel and the progress of the new evangelization.”
Archbishop Claudio Celli, who succeeded the U.S. cardinal as president of the communications council, said Cardinal Foley “stressed the positive potential of the media in informing, instructing and inspiring others, as a key component of the church’s mission and pastoral outreach in spreading the Gospel.”
The cardinal combined his journalistic training, professionalism, a friendly and approachable manner with his wisdom, humor and “passion to share the good news of God’s infinite love for every person,” the archbishop said.
Cardinal Foley promoted dialogue within the church about communication, culture and media, and called on professionals to seek the highest standards in their work, he said.
Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the communications council, said Cardinal Foley was deeply committed to “helping people who maybe weren’t so close to the church to understand better the church that he loved so much.”
“His great sensitivity was finding a language, and a way of speaking, a way of helping them to understand the church and to maybe overcome the little misunderstandings that could often color their attitude toward the church,” he told Catholic News Service.
Although Msgr. Tighe never worked directly with the cardinal, he said “his was one of the friendliest and most encouraging faces and presence around the Vatican.”
“The thing that always struck me was while people had enormous respect for him, they had an even greater affection,” he said.
Cardinal Foley was a caring listener who took the time to send personalized and thoughtful notes and gifts, the Irish monsignor said.
“As he was leaving Rome he went out of his way to give me a gift of something he had which was a signed letter by the Irish patriot Michael Collins,” who was killed during the Irish Civil War in 1922.
“It was the attentiveness to say, ‘I know that you would like this“ that made the man,” he said.
Marjorie Weeke, who met Cardinal Foley when he worked as a reporter covering the Second Vatican Council from 1963 to 1965, recalled when Blessed John Paul II named him president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 1984.
She said he was both surprised and excited to head the office because “he was such a media person, and right away he called some of the (news) bureaus and asked if he could be helpful to them.”
Weeke, who worked at the council from 1971 to 2001, said the cardinal was always trying to make the church more accessible and understandable to the media.
Whenever a papal document came out, he’d write up a summary of what it said and meant so “it would be easy for the press to read. It was helpful, that’s why the journalists liked him so much, and he was always available for interviews for anybody,” she said.
Under the cardinal’s tutelage, the council, which dealt with television and photo journalists’ access to the Vatican, gradually chipped away at Vatican reticence to allowing audiovisual journalists anywhere near the pope for fear their presence would be a disturbance, she said.
Yet “little by little we expanded to get media closer to the pope’ and now they are stationed on special platforms or areas off to the side or positioned at a short distance in front of the pope, she said.
The council liked to “push the system,” and the cardinal did it in “a very friendly way. He’d always go back again with another reason why” something needed to be done or changed, she said.
One thing that made Cardinal Foley so special, she said, was that despite his career climb, “he was always a priest” — a vocation he loved very much. Even though he didn’t have time to do the kind of pastoral work he was used to doing back in the United States, he still did confirmations, celebrated Mass, blessed marriages or heard confessions as often as he could.
“People felt they could talk personally to him,” and he was able to touch people’s hearts even over the air when they heard him doing commentary during the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass, she said.
Weeke recalled one man in Australia wrote to Cardinal Foley telling him he was the reason for his conversion to Catholicism after hearing his Christmas broadcast, which often generated fan mail praising his warm, up-close-and-personal style of commentary.