By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
By the standards of an institution often accused of lacking media savvy, the Vatican is engaged these days in an all-out communications blitz to promote the subject of the Synod of Bishops that runs Oct. 5-26: the Bible.
In conjunction with the opening of the synod, Italian television is broadcasting a round-the-clock marathon that will see the entire Bible read aloud, both Old and New Testaments from cover to cover, over the course of seven days and seven nights. While the broadcast is not a Vatican initiative, the Holy See nevertheless is serving up its most A-list “talent” to ensure its success: Pope Benedict XVI kicked things off Sunday night by reading the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will bring the 138-hour broadcast to a close on Saturday with the last chapter of Revelation.
The broadcast is set in Rome’s Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, with more than 1,200 readers shuttling in and out – including celebrities such as actor Roberto Benigni and former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Several of the bishops in Rome for the synod are also lending a hand; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, for example, is scheduled to read a passage from First Kings early Tuesday morning.
Those 1,200 readers were selected from among more than 100,000 people who visited the web site of the “Bible Day and Night” program in order to volunteer their services.
At the same time, the Vatican’s publishing house has released a new volume titled “Essential Guide to the Holy Bible,” written by Monsignor Pietro Principe, a former official of the Secretariat of State who is now retired. In just 64 pages, the book mixes text and art in an attempt to bring the Biblical story to life.
The volume was presented in an Oct. 1 press conference headlined by Archbishop Nikola Eterovi?, head of the Synod of Bishops, and Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Principe said his work is designed as “a simple book, in the style of Luther, who intended his translation of the Bible to be for mothers and families, the kids in the street, the people in the marketplace.”
The media blitz may be related to perceptions that the general public, even in countries with centuries of Christian tradition, often scores remarkably low on most measures of Biblical literary.
Prior to the Synod of Bishops, the Catholic Biblical Federation hired GFK Eurisko, Italy’s leading market research organization, to conduct a sociological survey in 16 nations about popular attitudes towards the Bible. While the poll found that large majorities even in highly secular nations still find the Bible interesting, it also found widespread ignorance about even basic matters. For example, overwhelming majorities in both the United States and Europe could not identify Moses as belonging to the Old Testament rather than the New, and incorrectly believed that Jesus wrote a book of the Bible.
“There’s a sort of obscurity with respect to things that our grandparents, even without degrees and diplomas, knew very well,” said Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums.t