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Forty years of Mandarin on Radio Veritas Asia

MANILA (UCAN): Better known as the Catholic voice of the air in Asia, during its 47 years of broadcasting, Radio Veritas Asia has moved beyond its clippie news services, interviews and reflections on religion and theology to become a multi-media communication centre sending out programmes in 17 different languages.

Officially launched on 11 April 1969, it was primarily oriented towards what was referred to as the Silent Churches and a fledgling Mandarin Service was begun just two months after its launch, but transmitter problems forced the closure of the Overseas Department in 1973.

With support from the archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the service was resurrected later in the same year and Father Ismael Zuloaga, who became known as the Shepherd of the Mandarin Service, managed to get the language back on the air again.

On 15 September 1976 test broadcasts in Mandarin were made in southeastern Asia and on 1 December 1978 more test broadcasts were beamed into continental China from a transmitter in the island province of Palawan, the best point in The Philippines for unimpeded broadcasting into the mainland.

The 40th anniversary of the resurrected Mandarin Service was celebrated at a gathering in Manila in early July.

Sister Angela Liu Lijun, a former coordinator of the Radio Veritas Asia Mandarin Service, recalled she once asked a priest in China how he learned theology.

He replied that an elderly priest taught him back in the days when religious activities had just been revived after the Cultural Revolution, which ran from 1966 to 1976.

“But I would also have to say that I graduated from the Radio Veritas Asia seminary, because I learned so much from listening to its programmes on theology and philosophy,” he explained.

Religious persecution in China was magnified when the Communist Party took control of the country in 1949.

“Missionaries were expelled and Catholics suffered oppression and lost their link with the universal Church,” Father Raymond Ambroise, the executive secretary of the Office of Social Communication of the Federation of Asia Bishops’ Conferences, said.

“In 1956, some Asian bishops convened a meeting in Manila to express their concern and explore ways to respond to the needs of Chinese Catholics,” Father Ambroise said.

The bishops decided on radio as the best form of media for making the message of the Church available to Catholics in China and so the Mandarin Service was born.

“But their work was and is not without difficulties,” Father Ambroise pointed out. The authorities in China interfered with and blocked the signal and, recently, its website too has been blocked.

The anniversary event served both as a review of history, as well as a search for new ways to use the Internet to strengthen contact between what is now a multi-media broadcaster and the Catholic people of China.

Three months ago, the Mandarin Service set up a WeChat public account that to date boasts 600,000 visitors.

A WeChat management team is responsible for editorial planning, user interaction and promotion with help from volunteers.

“There are a lot of procedures involved in setting up a website or smartphone app in China, but using WeChat—with its 600 million users—is much easier,” Ruo Wang, who manages the account, explained.

In the late 1990s there were a few scattered Catholic websites in China.

But Annie Lam Shun-wai, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, explained in her keynote speech that when the Hebei Faith Press in Shanghai, which published a national Catholic newspaper, officially launched registered websites in 1999, it was the beginning of a cyber revolution for the Church.

In addressing the topic, An Overview of Catholic Media in China, she said that by 2005 about 60 active websites had been launched.

Lam observed that the bulk of these websites just re-post Church news taken from websites outside the country, though there is some original reporting coming through.

“The Catholic media also use multimedia to tell news stories, but sometimes they overdo it with too many images,” she said.

“Most websites still avoid posting controversial news,” Lam noted.

The Mandarin Service today also streams video programmes and a variety of chat shows and interviews.

Internet development has helped it to reach out further. Now people can download programmes and listen any time as well.

Besides WeChat, the broadcaster has accounts on Facebook, Youku and YouTube, so it is quite easy for people in China to connect with the voice of the Church.

In 2014, Radio Veritas branched into the world of music, sponsoring a competition for original religious and Church music in Mandarin.

Although the bulk of the over 120 entries were from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, it attracted interest from The Philippines and Malaysia, as well as the United States of America and Europe.

The best 10 songs selected were showcased at a function in Macau, with Hong Kong’s Vanise Kwok Wai-shuen receiving top place for her composition on the seven days of creation.

“Forty years is not very long, but God’s grace was there every moment,” Bishop Phillip Huang, from Hualien, the chairperson of the Taiwan Social Communication Office, commented.

The bishop said that these programmes were a vital source of support for Catholics who were isolated from the physical community of the Church. “In some cases, it also helps non-believers hear teaching and get guidance. Some get baptised and become the children of God.”

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