The Vatican’s “Green” Mission Can Count on Print and Other Media
Vatican City may be the world’s smallest sovereign state, but it has world-class environmental ambitions as well as the media resources to promote its activism.
By Patrick Henry
Published: July 27, 2015
As the world knows, Pope Francis I has inserted himself, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Vatican city-state squarely into the controversy of global climate change by issuing an encyclical on environmental stewardship. Since climate change is tied to carbon footprint, and since carbon footprint is determined in part by the media that carbon-generating entities like the Vatican employ, we thought it might be interesting to look at some of the communication tools that Francis and his establishment rely on to evangelize, influence, and inform.
Not surprisingly, print has a long and rich history in papal affairs. The Vatican Printing House (Tipografia Vaticana), responsible for printing all of the documents of the Holy See (the church government) and the Vatican city-state, has been in existence since 1587. Today the output of this in-plant printing office, located in Vatican City, includes magazines, brochures, Vatican stationery and envelopes, and publications for the museums and the Vatican Library. It also produces L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s weekly newspaper.
The web site of Tipografia Vaticana doesn’t offer an English translation from the Italian, but print buffs will find in it much that they would recognize in any language. (These photos give a virtual tour.) Its plant boasts fully computerized prepress, CtP platesetting, manroland sheetfed presses, a Rockwell web press, and an appropriate complement of postpress machinery. Two years ago, the shop went digital with the installation of a Meteor DP8700 XL press from MGI.
The Vatican Printing Office is a component of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCCS), an umbrella organization that has been coordinating Vatican media since 1948. Currently, PCCS also comprises radio, television, book publishing, and photojournalism services. Social media are in the picture as well, with Vatican communications represented on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Picasa, and YouTube.
All told, the Vatican has about a dozen communications activities, and many of them tend to operate independently of each other. Like any other brand-owning organization, the Vatican recognizes the need for a unified media strategy in its outreach to the world. To that end, Francis has created a dicastery—equivalent to a Vatican government agency—to oversee and align the Holy See’s media channels. Called the Secretariat for Communications, the new authority is tasked with bringing more order to the media mix and with streamlining its messaging for a global audience in the 21st century.
In Catholic liturgy, the color green symbolizes hope, life, anticipation, and the religious observances associated with those values. Now it also will have to stand for fidelity to the pledge that Francis has made on the church’s behalf to the environmental well-being of the whole world. In the encyclical, the Pope asks for a dialog with all of the world’s people about the science and sociology of climate change and its often devastating effects on the poor.
This means that a fair question to ask is, how environmentally green is the Vatican? In 2007, the city-state declared its intention to become the world’s first carbon-neutral “country” through reduced energy consumption and CO2 offsetting. It has stuck to that goal by installing solar panel arrays, purchasing carbon credits, acquiring a hybrid gas-electric “Popemobile,” and pursuing similar initiatives begun during the reign of Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI. In Wikipedia’s entry on carbon neutrality, Vatican City is the only sovereign state identified as having achieved that status.
It’s a story that the Vatican has the media resources to tell on a large scale, and in our opinion, it would be no sin of pride for Francis and his followers to do so. Many printers in the secular sphere were telling the same worthy story long before the gospel of environmental activism was being preached out of Rome.