ROME – In what amounts to a tip of the papal skullcap to journalists and journalism, Pope Francis Saturday bestowed a papal knighthood on two veteran correspondents, describing Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki and American reporter Phil Pullella as the “deans” of the Vatican press corps.
While honoring the two journalists, Francis also delivered a warning: Understand what the Catholic Church really is.
“The church isn’t a political organization that has right and left within itself, as happens in parliaments,” the pope said. “Neither is it a large multination corporation, run by managers who study who to best sell its products sitting behind desks.”
According to Francis, seeing the church in such terms isn’t a temptation just for journalists.
“The church does not build itself on the basis of its own project, it does not draw from itself the strength to move forward and does not live on marketing strategies,” he said. “Every time it falls into this worldly temptation, and many times it falls or has fallen, the church, without realizing it, believes it has a light of its own.”
Francis also thanked journalists for bringing negative information about the church to light, including clerical sexual abuse.
The pope congratulated reporters “for what you recount regarding things in the church that aren’t right, for helping us not to sweep it under the rug, and for giving voice the victims of abuse … thanks for this.”
Francis even offered a lofty simile for the journalist profession.
“One doesn’t come into journalism choosing a career so much as launching oneself into a mission,” the pontiff said. “It’s a bit like a doctor who studies and labors so that, in the world, suffering can be cured.”
Picking up on themes from his message for the World Day of Communications, Francis also charged journalists to “wear out the soles of your shoes, get out from behind your desks, walk through the cities, meet people, and understand the situations in which they live in our time.”
Francis bestowed the Grand Cross of the Order of Pope Pius IX on Alazraki, a veteran television correspondent, and Pullella, the longtime Reuters bureau chief in Rome. It’s the highest such papal honor assigned to lay men, and, since 1993, women, ranking just below another honor given to visiting heads of state.
Both Alazraki and Pullella have covered three popes, and Alazraki made her first papal trip in 1979 when John Paul II travelled to Puebla in Mexico.