Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted spends a moment in silence before Mass is celebrated Nov. 10, 2008 at the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

By Ed Wilkinson Catholic News Service
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — In what appears to be a contradiction in terms, silence as a means of communication was the theme of the Brooklyn Diocese’s 21st annual World Communications Day conference and luncheon May 18.

The topic came from the theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day, “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.”

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Brooklyn’s vicar for communications, opened the program by saying, “There is a lot of noise in today’s world. The pope challenges us to be still so that we can have a personal encounter with God.”

Keynote speaker Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online, said she felt that “silence was disappearing” in the world. She called Pope Benedict’s message about silence” a great gift from a great teacher.”

“No one looks at one another anymore,” she said. “Everyone is tweeting and texting. We need to get over ourselves and to ask God to help us get outside ourselves.”

She pointed out that the pope says silence is necessary because it allows time for contemplation and time to listen to one another, without which no real dialogue or conversation can take place. She recommended that everyone commit to an hour of silence a day to listen to God and to one another.

“Silence is not an escape; it’s meant to be an integral part of our lives,” she said.

She used Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen as an example of a great communicator who took time out of every day to make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

“We’re living in this new media world and we’re trying to be good Catholics,” she said. “If we seek to be well integrated, God will use the opportunities to communicate with us.”

A second keynoter, Kellianne Conway, a national pollster and frequent TV commentator, explained that “we are living in a time when Catholics are under attack in the media. It’s open season on Catholics. Anti-Catholic rhetoric is part of the expected routine.”

But “people still agree with doctrinal precepts,” she said. “Even if they don’t admit it at times.”

For instance, she maintained that most Americans are opposed to abortion. Those who support keeping abortion legal use the argument of protecting the life of the mother but she explained that only 1 percent of abortions in the United States are performed to save the life of the mother.

She also said most abortion supporters do not want the general public to know that 3 percent of the abortions occur because of gender selection, which is usually anti-feminine.

She added that the nation is increasingly becoming pro-life because science and medicine have stepped up with information and images that are shifting the focus away from the woman and more toward the child in the womb.

“Catholic are seen as out of touch on social issues but facts and figures are on our side,” she said.

Conway, a Catholic and the mother of four, also urged the Catholic Church to embrace immigrants because the newly arrived Asians and Hispanics are “propping up our church, even in the suburbs.”

As a national pollster, she claimed that there is no monolithic Catholic vote because it usually breaks down between churchgoing and fallen-away Catholics.

“The behavior of churchgoing Catholics is much more based on faith,” she said. “If religion is central to you, your faith influences the rest of your life, including the way you vote.”

The Catholic Church, she said, needs to get back to basics and to use facts to communicate shock to the consciences of others.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presented a St. Francis de Sales medal to Christopher Ruddy, founder and CEO of NewsMax, a multimedia publications company that publishes one of the country’s most popular news online services.

Ruddy, a graduate of Chaminade High School in Uniondale on Long Island and St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y., said he got into the media business because the country was suffering from a lack of diversity in news and that journalism was becoming one-sided.

He also echoed other speakers that “religious freedom is in the crosshairs” of an increasingly secular society.

Bishop DiMarzio also presented a St. Clare Award to Joe Campo, CEO and founding partner of Grassroots Film Co., a Brooklyn-based video production company.

Grassroots has been commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and also has produced national TV spots. Its recent feature film “The Human Experience” has been shown at 30 international film festivals.

In keeping with the theme of the conference, Campo pointed out that one of his poignant pro-life ads for was seen on national TV and didn’t have a word in it.

Bishop DiMarzio closed the session by saying that “we cannot pray in the midst of noise. Silence is necessary if we want to communicate with one another. There’s a lot of noise in our lives but God often speaks through silence.”

He used silence as part of his closing prayer. Msgr. Harrington called for a minute of silence during the program.

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By Ed Wilkinson, editor of The Tablet in Brooklyn.