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The first ‘global newspaper’

· From the book “Singolarissimo giornale. I 150 anni dell’ ‘Osservatore Romano’” ·

The book-launch for “Singolarissimo giornale. I 150 anni dell’Osservatore Romano” [A most unusual newspaper. The 150th anniversary of “L’Osservatore Romano”], was held in Rome on 2 December at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in the presence of President Giorgio Napolitano of the Italian Republic. It is edited by H.E. Mr Antonio Zanardi Landi, the former Ambassador of Italy to the Holy See, and Prof. Gian Maria Vian, Editor-in-Chief of L’Osservatore Romano. The following is a translation from Italian of the contribution by Hon. Mr Franco Frattini, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to this book that pays tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Italian daily that is known to many as “the Pope's newspaper”.

Journalists are condemned to write for their contemporaries, not for posterity. The task of newspapers is to tell their readers about daily happenings, allowing them to decipher the complexities of events. These are rules that apply to L’Osservatore Romano too, but the mottoes unicuique suum and non praevalebunt , printed under the masthead, indicate that the paper has quite other horizons and ambitions.

L’Osservatore is indeed much more than a “Roman” paper. Its horizon is the world in its entirety, not even limited to the Catholic world. Over the years, the manner in which it has reported and understood events has expressed an international dimension, which has given the Vatican newspaper a voice that is always modern, never dated.

This capacity to be in step with the times, sometimes a precursor of important international trends, has been the paper’s characteristic from its earliest years, in the 19th century, when the parties, political movements and newspapers of Italy settled into a region-based mould with very limited readerships. It was only at the end of the 1870s that a market for national publications addressing the whole peninsula began to come into being. And yet, in this climate of political-ideological divisions between lay people and Catholics, L’Osservatore Romano managed to address a diversified public, confirming the international scope that distinguished it from other organs of the press in the panorama of Italian publishing. It constituted a window constantly open on to the world.

Its international vocation was made even stronger by the particular relationship that links Rome to the world’s capitals — a very strong symbolic, cultural and religious link which has never been attenuated, even when in Italy democracy was supplanted by the Fascist regime. Indeed, it was precisely during that period that L’Osservatore Romano acquired great international visibility and special prestige on a world scale.

The 1930s represented an extraordinary period for L’Osservatore Romano . The Vatican newspaper became a real point of reference for journalists all over the world who followed the news and comments it proposed. At the outbreak of the Second World War, it became even more important because it received information coming from the diplomatic corps of all the States accredited to the Holy See. When hostilities started, the censorship of the press was further restricted and L’Osservatore Romano became indispensable reading for anyone who wanted to understand what was happening in the world and did not wish to be subjected to the propaganda of the totalitarian regimes.

It was the newspaper of Guido Gonella, with his column of international information, Acta diurna, and of Alcide De Gasperi, who then worked as an employee of the Vatican Library in a sort of forced exile, collaborating with L’Illustrazione Vaticana.

L’Osservatore managed to remain anti-conformist in the decades of the Cold War, of decolonization and of secularization. It has shown so much dignity, so much authority, so much strength — to borrow Cardinal Montini’s words in a famous article — also by being inconvenient and courageous in demystifying the fashions of the times. And indeed in its innate propensity for experimentation: it was the first truly global newspaper in the history of journalism, published in eight languages and with its weekly editions reaching more than 150 countries. It is the newspaper that, more than any other, due to its special vocation, has constantly succeeded in representing in an unbiased way and faithfully the globalization that so many of the media have pursued so breathlessly, day after day.

International in its approach, content and distribution, L’Osservatore Romano has told the great events of foreign politics of the past 150 years without failing to provide political judgements and, above all, without being silenced by the provincial and local outlook that continues to characterize a part of the Italian press.

No masthead in the world systematically gives pride of place to international news. None except L’Osservatore Romano . In the past no one who wished to free himself from the tentacles of the many ideologies could do without it. Today, no professional in any field who needs to understand global realities can do without it.

It is hardly surprising therefore that in 2008 the Wall Street Journal praised the audacity and great modernity of L’Osservatore Romano’ s editorial line. It is a pleasure to read in this tribute the admiration of professionals in the field of journalism. Each follows his own course. But all are dedicated to practising with passion and competence the difficult task of bringing the world closer to its citizens. The words Unicuique suum are very much to the point.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 20, 2019