All of us in the Catholic press were thrilled when Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop John P. Foley, the longtime president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Foley has been our friend and mentor going back to the days when he was editor of the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times.
So it should be no surprise that many of us are writing tributes to him. One of the best I’ve seen so far is by Joe Ryan, currently the assistant editor at The Dialog, diocesan newspaper of Wilmington, Del. Joe worked for Cardinal-designate Foley in Philadelphia and learned from him the ideals that all Catholic journalists try to uphold.
“Whether reporting on … a parish’s anniversary, a clothing drive or the tragedy of a victim’s molestation by a priest, Catholic journalism’s duty to report the truth in light of our faith is never detrimental to the church,” Joe wrote.
His tribute starts off with a story that many of us in the Catholic press have already heard (perhaps several times!) about a trip the young priest-editor took with the then-archbishop of Philadelphia:
Philadelphia’s Cardinal John Krol was touring the Holy Land in the early 1970s when he went to Egypt and visited the pyramids at Giza. Like many tourists there, the distinguished prelate was invited by a persistent hawker to ride a camel.
The cardinal asked the editor of his newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times, if he thought he should get on the camel.
“No, your eminence,” said Msgr. John P. Foley. “I would advise you not to get on that camel.”
Cardinal Krol, caught between a beckoning Bedouin and his dubious priest-editor, decided his opportunities in life to ride a camel would be limited, so up he climbed.
Msgr. Foley promptly took his boss’s picture, which ran in Catholic newspapers around the world. It showed the Archbishop of Philadelphia, ungainly in the camel’s saddle, looking more like the former butcher from Cleveland he had been than Lawrence of Arabia.
“You told me not to get on the camel; why did you take my picture?” the cardinal asked the editor.
“As your loyal priest, your eminence, I gave you my best advice,” Msgr. Foley said. “As the editor of your newspaper, I took your picture.”
That incident at Giza summarizes the essence of Catholic journalism as I learned it 30 years ago from Msgr. Foley, who was named a cardinal Oct. 17 by Pope Benedict XVI; when the word Catholic modifies the word journalism, it doesn’t alter the discipline with bias, it strengthens it with a profound truth — the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ.
The entire tribute is worth reading, especially if you’ve ever wondered how we define our roles as Catholic journalists and why we report the “Good News” and the bad news at the same time. (This link here will take you to a .pdf of the entire current edition of The Dialog. For Joe’s tribute to Cardinal-designate Foley, go to Page 13 of the 26-page .pdf file.)