From the President: The power of witness

By Gretchen R. Crowe, President of the Catholic Media Association

The first time I heard of the Catholic press, I was 22. A speaker was visiting the Catholic Student Center at Duke University, where I was volunteering for a year after college graduation. To this day, I have no recollection of what the speaker was there to talk about, or even who it was (sorry, speaker). But I do remember the off-hand comment that he made about his wife: that she was working to build the Kingdom of God by using her gifts and talents as a writer for her diocesan newspaper.

At that moment, an entire new world opened up for me. I had graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communication, and I loved to write and edit. But I had also been very involved in my school's campus ministry program. Continuing to grow in my relationship with God was very important to me. I was starting to have a vague understanding of how I should be aligning my life more with God's will, and I didn't want to lose that. Now, with the realization that I could marry my love of writing with my love of the Church, I had a path forward. And it has been a path in Catholic media that I have been blessed to walk these past 20 years.

As is the case with many of us with this particular vocation, I have been drawn to writing about people's faith journeys. I love being able to spend time with an individual, figuring out what really makes them tick and why they have chosen to dedicate their lives to a particular ministry or mission. When I was writing more regularly, I was frequently moved by these testimonies, and I often left those encounters inspired and reflecting about how I might learn and grow from their witness. I pray that those who read what I wrote felt the same.

Authentic witness is a most compelling subject, and there is nothing better than being able to tell the stories of those who have fallen in love with their faith, who have entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and whose lives have been dramatically changed because of it -- as they can't help but be. There is a passage from St. Paul VI's 1975 document on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, that speaks directly to this idea. He wrote:

"Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. (No. 21)

This, St. Paul VI goes on to say, is "an initial act of evangelization." All Christians, he said, "are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers."

Though we are used to shining a light on others, the same is true for us as participants in the work of Catholic media. How do we differentiate ourselves from our secular counterparts? How do we show our capacity for acceptance and understanding? How do we reflect our Christian values to our readers and those we encounter? How is our understanding of truth shaped? What is our wordless witness? These are some questions I find myself wrestling with on a daily basis.

Yet, as powerful as witness alone can be, St. Paul VI also says it is "insufficient" unless it is explained, that is, "made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus" (No. 22). And this is what truly sets us apart as members of Catholic media. This is our True North.

So this month I am giving thanks for the witnesses to the Faith that I have encountered and been inspired by in my life -- in a special way, Speaker and Wife. We never know how God is going to use the people that he places in our lives. And I give thanks for the vocation of Catholic media and the opportunity to share with others the best story in the world: the story of Jesus Christ.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV News and president of the Catholic Media Association. This article appeared in the August 2023 edition of The Catholic Journalist.