ROME – In a rare session with members of the Vatican press corps Monday, Pope Francis thanked journalists for their work, urging them to base their reporting on “the solid rock of responsibility in the truth” rather than “the fragile sand of gossip and ideological readings.”

In the first of its kind meeting during Francis’s 11-year papacy, the pontiff told journalists they were in a sense at home in the Vatican and called them his “travel companions,” as many accompany the pope on board the papal flight during his international travels.

“You are a community united by a mission. I know your passion, your love for what you tell, your efforts,” he said, speaking to members of the International Association of Journalists Accredited to the Vatican (AIGAV).

He compared being a journalist to being a doctor, who chooses “to love humanity curing illnesses.”

“So, in a certain sense, does the journalist, who chooses to touch the wounds of society and the world,” he said, calling journalism a calling “that arises as young people and leads to understanding, shedding light, and telling stories.”

Francis encouraged the Vatican press corps to return to the roots of their “vocation” to journalism and “to remember it, to remember the call that unites you in such an important task.”

“How much need there is to know and tell on the one hand, and how much it is needed to cultivate an unconditional love for the truth on the other!” he said, and thanked the journalists for “the perseverance and patience” of following the daily news of the Vatican beat and “explaining an institution that transcends the ‘here and now,’ and our own lives.”

He also thanked them for the sacrifices they make, often missing family time during summer vacations and holidays when he travels or during major events on Sundays and holidays.

Pope Francis then offered his take on the primary role of a vaticanista, an expert in Vatican affairs, which he said is to recount “the path of the church, in building bridges of awareness and communication instead of furrows of division and mistrust.”

Quoting veteran Italian Vatican watcher and journalist Luigi Accattoli, who recently turned 80, Francis defined being a vaticanista as “a profession that is fast to the point of being ruthless, twice as inconvenient when it is applied to an important topic like the church, which the commercial media inevitably bring to their level…of the market.”

“In many years of following the Vatican, I learned the art of seeking and narrating life stories, which is a way of loving humanity. I learned humility. I approached many men of God who helped me believe and remain human. I can therefore only encourage those who want to venture into this journalistic specialization,” he said.

Francis then noted that Pope Saint Paul VI before beginning one of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council invited the journalists reporting on it to an audience, allowing them to be immersed “in the nature and spirit of the facts to which they dedicated their service.”

Journalists, Francis said, quoting Paul VI’s speech to journalists, “must not be guided, as sometimes happens, by criteria that classify the things of the church according to profane and political categories, which are not suited to the things themselves, but indeed often distort them.”

Rather, journalists, he said, continuing the quote, “must take into account what truly informs the life of the church; that is, its religious and moral purposes and its characteristic spiritual qualities.’

Francis also thanked the Vatican press corps for their “delicacy” in reporting on church scandals, saying scandals exist “and many times I have seen in you a great delicacy, a respect…thank you for this attitude.”

He also thanked the Vatican press corps for their efforts to maintain an approach that looks beyond appearances and which “knows how to grasp the substance, which does not want to bow to the superficiality of stereotypes and pre-packaged formulas of information-entertainment, which, in the difficult search for truth, prefer the easy cataloguing of facts and ideas according to pre-established schemes.”

“I encourage you to go forward on this path that knows how to combine information with reflection, speaking with listening, discernment with love,” he said.

Again quoting Accattoli, he said a vaticanista must resist “the native vocation of mass communication to manipulate the image of the church, more than any other image of associated humanity.”

“In fact, the media tend to distort religious news. They distort it with both the high or ideological register, and with the low or spectacular register. The overall effect is a double deformation of the image of the church: the first register tends to force under a political form, the second tends to relegate to light news,” he said.

“It is not easy, but here lies the greatness of the Vatican expert, the finesse of soul that adds to journalistic skill,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said the beauty of the work Vatican journalists do “is that of founding it on the solid rock of responsibility in the truth, not on the fragile sand of gossip and ideological readings.”

Truth, he said, “likes not in hiding reality and even its miseries, without making unnecessary noise,” but rather, it tries “to grasp the essential, in light of the nature of the church.”

“How much good it does for the People of God, for the simplest people, for the church itself, which still has a long way to go to communicate better: with witness, even before with words,” he said, and closed thanking journalists for their work and asking for their prayers.

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