If the Vatican wants to reach out the world, it should just stick to English

Pope Pius XII makes a broadcast on Vatican Radio (Getty Images)

What a very good idea for the Church in Poland to launch its own Twitter account in English. Polish is a very difficult language and sadly few non-Poles ever learn it; this way the English-speaking world now has a window into what is happening in the Polish Church.

A brief glance at @ChurchinPoland reveals, for example, that the Polish Church has been collecting money for the Catholic Church in the East, that is in Donbass, Siberia and Kazakhstan; this Advent they are also sending out ‘missionary’ carol singers to collect money for children in Lebanon and Syria.

These simple facts rather contradict the narrative that the Polish Church is inward looking and xenophobic. But that narrative always was one founded on a lack of knowledge about just what the word “Catholic” means, as well as a profound misunderstanding of Polish history and culture.

The choice of a Twitter stream in English is a sign, if one needed one, that English is the language of international communication these days. English tweets will have an audience thanks to the fact that an awful lot of people speak at least some English. It is a sign that the Polish Church wants its message to be heard globally; and every Catholic should welcome that. We all have a lot to learn from Poland.

Meanwhile, also on the communications front, and as also reported in this magazine, the Vatican is about to launch its revamped news site, which is part of its continuing attempt to draw together all the strands of the Vatican’s various communications output. The website is going to be multilingual, as are the personnel who are behind the initiative, and will be in six languages: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

This strikes me as ambitious, and trying to do too much at the same time. It really just needs to be in English alone. These are international operations that are all aiming at a global audience and which restrict themselves to English alone. One might object that this discriminates against, for example, monoglot Lusophones, but if the Vatican carries news that is worth reading, the Portuguese outlets will pick it up and translate it for Portuguese audiences.

Back in the day, all Church documents and all liturgical books were in one language only: Latin. English is the new Latin, and if you want to reach an international audience, that is the language you need to speak. As in the days when Latin dominated, the predominance of one language made things a lot easier. The Vatican conducts all its diplomatic business in Italian; why shouldn’t it just stick to English when communicating in our increasingly globalised world?