Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth's recent initiative in appearing regularly on commercial television in prime time is a reminder of the great tele-evangelist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who, during the fifties and part of the sixties, was a household name.
Like Archbishop Sheen, Archbishop Hickey gets the Christian message across to a mixed audience by use of subject matter of interest and concern to the average TV viewer, and then connecting it to Christian teaching or philosophy. His topics have included "Violence," "Honesty", "Marriage and Family" and "Justice".
Judging from comments reported to members of the Fulton J. Sheen Society in Perth, the presence of an easily identifiable man of the cloth on a major media outlet has made many people sit up and listen.
At the same time, Archbishop Hickey's regular Christian messages have been a much-needed counterweight to the nonsense transmitted by the mainstream media.
As the late Pope John Paul II put it: "The special message before you is to find ways to ensure the voice of the Church is not marginalised or silenced in the modern era of the media. Jesus Christ must be proclaimed to the world and therefore the Church must enter the great forum of the media with courage and confidence."
In Archbishop Hickey's words, "My appearances on Channel 9 are part of my continuing efforts to communicate with all Catholics and the general community. There is no doubt that television has the greater capacity to reach people with messages that are not only important for the Church but also for the well-being of our society.
" We need to be out there in the marketplace of ideas which is too often dominated by transient appeal to emotional excitement."
At this stage, Archbishop Hickey's television broadcast is only shown in Perth and for just a few minutes. However, with the support of the faithful and others it may take on a larger format and be broadcast nationally if other Australian bishops support and promote this concept.
That the Archbishop is not shy in presenting himself before the public was evidenced when he sang for the Fulton J. Sheen Society's annual fund-raising concert in December 2005, where his poise and confidence coupled with his fine baritone voice impressed and inspired a mixed audience of some four hundred people.
The Archbishop is to be commended for his media initiative and to enable him to continue and even extend it, the Society urges more Catholics to contribute towards the substantial costs involved, as the Society itself has been doing and will continue to do.
Daniel Tobin was co-founder of the Fulton J. Sheen Society Inc in Perth, Western Australia, in 1999, and is currently Secretary of the Society.