Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Benedict bounce?

I first heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI will be broadcasting the "Thought for the Day" tomorrow, Christmas Eve, in a Radio 2 top-of-the-hour news bulletin. These are short news bulletins, most often occuring on the hour between (or during) programmes that are not current affairs programmes. I happend to catch this bit of news in the morning during the Chris Evans breakfast show.

I was very taken by Chris Evans reaction, in the comment he made as he resumed his programme after the news bulletin. I cannot remember his exact words, but they were close to "How cool is that! Booking the Pope for a slot in your programme". I was firstly taken by how significant a figure Chris Evans understood the Holy Father to be, in that being able to book him for a piece on a radio programme was considered to be such a coup. The second thing that struck me was that there was also a sense in which he did not consider it an unusual thing for the Pope to be broadcasting on the BBC. And then I wondered how odd or strange it might have all seemed before the Papal visit in September of this year; but that, after that visit, it seems almost what one would expect.  Chris Evans reaction reminded me of that of a presenter on BBC Radio London, who, talking in September about things happening in London that day, referred with a clear sense of pride to "the second day of Pope Benedict's visit to our city".

I caught part of the Chris Evans show this morning, too. The programme was coming live from the residence of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, with the participation of the Archbishop himself (almost as a co-presenter). Once again, Chris Evans attitude to the whole thing seemed very positive and both he and Archbishop Sentamu (and his collaborators at the arch-episcopal residence) appear to have enjoyed the whole thing immensely. Once again, I wondered whether such a confident and open engagement with Christianity in the context of an ordinary, non-religious radio programme, would have occurred, say, this time last year.

The National Secular Society seem strangely irrelevant, if not somewhat hypocritical in their response. On the one hand they excoriate the invitation extended by the BBC to Pope Benedict and on the other are trying to get their own point of view in to the very same slot.

Long live the Benedict bounce!