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Hallo again to all.

On 10 February 1939, Pope Pius XI died in his own apartment in the Vatican. His passing was duly reported in the Time magazine issue of 20 February 1939. The Pope's death was noted in the Religion section, but it was not the cover story that week. The magazine's cover showed a portrait of Charles Edison, Assistant Secretary of the US Navy, and the lead story discussed the difficult balance of diplomacy and military strength, derived from a worry that 'Europe's totalitarian toughies would risk transatlantic invasion.' By way of contrast, the issue of Time magazine published after the death of HH John Paul II not only features on its cover a portrait of the late Pope, but devotes a good 25 percent of the issue to his life and death.

A hareThe Newseum, which shows the front page of 280 newspapers in 34 countries, shows dramatically that almost every major newspaper in the world is today reporting the death of John Paul II on its front page.* Google News, which indexes thousands of newspapers worldwide, shows about 60,000 news stories about the Pope. Even Al Jazeera reported the event, though not as a front-page story.

We aren't here to write story number 60,001. You already know all that you need to know about it. In fact, we are all probably beginning to suffer a sensory overload of Pope news, having read all about silver hammers, the smashing of the ring of the Fisherman, the burning of ballots, the role of the camerlengo, and the closing of shutters. Here we reflect not on the death of the Pope, but on the reporting of it, and the brief but intense moment in which his death is the global news.

By the time the traditional nine-day funeral ceremonies are finished, the adrenaline rush of breaking news will have faded; something else will be the focus of global attention. Almost no one can maintain this level of intensity for very long without a steady stream of new developments. It hasn't always been necessary: in Jesus' day, most information was history, not news. People knew what was happening to those who lived close to them, and heard and read stories of what had happened farther away. Knowledge of faraway places was indistinguishable from myth; news became history as it traveled.

A tortoiseElectronic communication is brilliant at providing information, yet sluggardly at fostering knowledge and understanding. Worse, a steady diet of up-to-the-second news neither provides understanding nor gives us time and focus to acquire it. It is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. When Herbert Simon was being interviewed after winning the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economics, he told a reporter that one of his secrets was reading news but once a year, from the World Almanac, and not every day from the newspaper.

In all aspects of our life in the church, we must resist the temptation to substitute news for history, knowledge for wisdom, or information for understanding. Take time to understand what you learn. Take time to read and understand history. Pray and reflect. So much of what seems breathlessly important right now will in ten years not just be inconsequential, it will be forgotten.

See you next week. No sooner.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 3 April 2005

*By the time you read this, the Newseum will have updated its 'Today's News' collection to the day on which you are reading, but we expect that this event — the Pope's death — will become part of its permanent 'News History' collection.

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2005 Society of Archbishop Justus