Reflecting on 20 years as your faithful columnist at the National Post


National Post, 18 October 2018

'When you get to Rome, if you notice anything interesting, send us something,' said Kenneth Whyte. That was 750 columns ago

VATICAN CITY — This week Rome is observing the 20th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of the election of St. John Paul II as pope. Actually, most are marking the 40th anniversary, but I think of it as the 20th of the 20th — which has a lot to do with the National Post.

I arrived in Rome in August 1998 to begin my theological studies for the priesthood. Before I left Canada I had been invited to a meeting with Kenneth Whyte, the first editor of a new national newspaper set to launch that fall. We had mutual friends in Alberta — our home province — from whom Ken had heard that I wrote a bit for the Catholic press and was headed to Rome. He told me that his new newspaper, the National Post, intended to give better coverage to religion and wondered if I might help.

Better than what? Well, The Globe and Mail, which had taken a somewhat anti-religious turn in the 1990s, finally editorializing in 1997 that right-thinking people desired religious faith unburdened by historical facts or limited rigid dogma. The Globe intimated that insistent truth claims rendered religion unsuitable for the give-and-take of a pluralistic society. The Globe preferred a more congenial faith that did not make demands on the important business of life.

Ken thought that the Post could do better than that, taking religious believers seriously on their own terms as valid subjects for news coverage, and as full contributors to Canada’s common life. I agreed. How could I help?

“When you get to Rome, if you notice anything interesting, send us something,” Ken responded, laconically and enigmatically.

Two months later, Rome was celebrating 20 years since the election of her current bishop. Papal 20th anniversaries are rare — the last one has been a century previous.

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