The world waited with anticipation as a new Pope was selected this past Wednesday. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who will be called Francis and is the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years, is taking over as the historic and powerful voice of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Pope Francis will have a major and significant impact not only on his church, but also on the worlds of politics, religion, and culture.
Over the past decade or two, the Catholic Church has been stung by sexual scandals and financial troubles. During this period, it seems to have retreated from its aggressive communications and storytelling history. Remember, it was the Catholic Church that created and developed the word “propaganda” around 1622, when a new branch of the Catholic Church was created, called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), or more simply, Propaganda. The original concept of propaganda was a positive one, which was to assist in promoting Catholicism in non-Catholic countries and regions.
Now is the time for the church to return to its roots and tell its story to its believers and the world. No matter your region, beliefs, or background, the Catholic Church has a passionate story to tell that transcends one's personal leanings.
The church's strategic communications aim must be to get beyond its past issues and regain the strong moral and ethical voice that has been a driving force in politics, society, culture, and life for centuries. It must return to its roots and preach tolerance, understanding, and ethical behavior – and retain current members and build new ones in an era when evangelicalism and others are having a strong impact on religious membership.
Below are four communications recommendations that could assist Pope Francis in resurrecting the positive communications of the Catholic Church.
Road shows. Nothing connects people to the church more effectively than seeing its leader in person. Pope John Paul II was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. He was a charismatic leader and is credited with helping to end Communism in his native Poland and, eventually, all of Europe.
The new Pope will need to travel and speak extensively on key issues of importance in the world, focusing on fighting poverty, reducing intolerance, building better understanding between cultures and peoples, and improving living conditions and healthcare in underprivileged communities around the world.
Improved social media. Pope Benedict XVI started the acceptance of new media at the Vatican and quickly picked up 1.6 million Twitter followers. Pope Francis must quickly clarify Vatican viewpoints and make them easier to find in a confusing sea of papal new media pronouncements.
Activism. The selection of a new Pope presents a perfect opportunity to take an active and vocal leadership role in addressing and moving toward tolerance within the faith itself on issues that have divided the public and church in the past.
Recruitment. Major religions such as Catholicism are losing ground to evangelicals and harmful cults that are taking advantage of the troublesome times in the world to gain new members at the expense of established religions. Pope Francis must lead the Catholic Church in actively recruiting new members, leaders, and priests and nuns to spread the church's gospel and point out its strong merits over fly-by-night sophistic religious groups.
These suggestions, which would also work quite well for political parties fighting to gain power in this country, could provide a needed boost at this very key moment in history for the Catholic Church.
Sam Singer is president of Singer Associates in San Francisco. A former journalist and political campaign manager, he has spent the past 20-plus years helping a wide variety of clients develop their public affairs strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.