By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Last weekend, Catholic Voices USA presented an intensive two-day media training workshop plus an evening lecture reflecting on Pope Francis’ first year in office at the Blessed John XXIII Center in Lincoln.
Thanks to the generous support of local business leaders, the workshop was offered at no cost.
The training team included Catholic Voices USA’s executive director, Scot Landry and director Kathryn Jean Lopez. Landry is also host of a daily radio broadcast from Boston called “The Good Catholic Life.” Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.
Catholic Voices USA was launched in 2012 based on a model successfully used in Great Britain, in preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in September 2010. The program helps Catholics of all walks of life prepare to clearly state Church truth and love in the secular media as part of the New Evangelism.
Lincoln’s workshop drew 27 people of all ages and walks of life, including a few priests and religious sisters. Landry said it was the largest group that they have trained to date.
One of the participants was University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Claire Pohlen, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln. The family sciences and business major signed up after a couple of people encouraged her to apply.
She had already had a little experience talking to secular media representatives, such as the campus newspaper, The Daily Nebraskan, and some interviews from Rome during the conclave that elected Pope Francis last spring.
“This weekend really taught me some new things, and how to better handle those interviews,” Pohlen said.
Catholic Voices USA team members led the participants in a number of discussions on effective communication strategies and appropriate messages for communicating the positive nature of the Church’s teaching on a number of current topics.
They also provided training on interviewing skills for newspaper, radio, and television. Then, the participants were videotaped in mock interviews, which allowed them to evaluate their own effectiveness and get one-on-one coaching.
“They grilled us with really difficult questions,” Miss Pohlen said, wryly recounting her discomfort at being called a bigot during one of her practice sessions. “It was a challenge to pull those thoughts together and speak, even though it was a simulated interview.”
She added, “They prepared us for the worst.”
Pohlen said the workshop made her realize how great a need there is for many people being able to communicate the truth about Catholicism to the secular world.
“I had never really grasped the idea that part of the New Evangelism is taking our faith into the media,” she said. “You have to be prepared to educate the public.”
She admits to having always felt a bit under-qualified when interviewing with secular media reporters, but she feels the workshop has helped prepare her to fulfill that role better than ever.
“It was a very big confidence booster,” she said.
By the end of the first day, most participants were exhausted from the sheer volume of information to process, as well as the intensity of the mock interviews, but a few joined other members of the public for the Friday night lecture.
After diocesan communications director JD Flynn welcomed the audience of about 40 people and Bishop James D. Conley opened the evening with prayer and a few remarks, Landry took the podium. He spoke first about Pope Francis’ key messages from the last year, and then covered how the Holy Father has encouraged all Catholics to communicate those messages.
He was followed by Lopez, who discussed the impact of the pope’s messages in the media. At the end of her talk, the pair took questions from the audience.
Joann Weaver of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ Parish in Lincoln was there.
“You can’t know enough about your faith,” she said. “The whole topic was intriguing.
Response was positive all the way around.
“I am very, very thankful that the diocese promoted this opportunity and I’m grateful to the benefactors of it,” Pohlen said. “I wish they could have another workshop.”
For more information about CatholicVoices USA, including their blog and “10 Principles of Civil Communications” that can be used in any discussion about the Catholic faith, visit their website at catholicvoicesusa.org.