FaithWorld

“If I were Pope Benedict, this is what I’d tell them in Berlin …”

(The Reichstag building, seat of the German Bundestag in Berlin, where Pope Benedict will deliver a speech on September 22. Picture taken on November 22, 2010/Pawel Kopczynski )

Have you ever wanted to write a major speech for Pope Benedict to deliver? What would you say? How much leeway would you have if you were chosen to be the papal ghostwriter?

Benedict is not about to let outsiders write the landmark speech he will deliver to the German Bundestag in Berlin during his visit to his homeland on September 22-25. But the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), a think-tank affiliated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wants to test out this idea before he leaves Rome for the visit.

The KAS office in the Italian capital has just announced a contest called “Ghost writer for the pope!”  This is not an invitation to write anything heretical. The announcement on its website says KAS will only consider entries that reflect Pope Benedict’s thinking “in theology, form and content.”  It suggests that papal speechwriters in spe should use his address in London’s Westminster Hall last September as a model. Maximum length 5 pages, deadline August 26. The winner will be invited to hear the pope’s actual speech in the Bundestag on September 22.

“The choice will be made by a jury of KAS staffers in Rome, Catholic theology professors, journalists (Radio Vatican and L’Osservatore Romano) and religious dignitaries,” it warned. “The choice is not subject to appeal.”

Word clouds drift apart in Obama’s speeches to the Muslim world

obama jakartaWord clouds are graphic games that sometimes tell more than a plain text. Look at the results below for U.S. President Barack Obama’s “speech to the Muslim world” today in Jakarta and his first such address in Cairo last year. I’ve analysed the two in a report here, but word clouds tell the story a different way. (Photo: President Barack Obama in Jakarta, 10 Nov 2010/Barbara Walton)

Judging by the frequency of the words, today’s speech was much more a speech about Indonesia than anything else. The message to the greater Muslim world — here’s what the world’s largest Muslim country can do! – only comes through between the lines. But it was clear enough when Obama strung these words into sentences.

Another point is how strong the focus is on secular concepts such as democracy, progress and development. “Muslim” and “Islam” are also-rans while “Koran” doesn’t appear at all.

Obama sets Muslim outreach for Indonesia trip

istiqlal (Photo: Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, August 18, 2003/Supri)

President Barack Obama will visit Indonesia’s largest mosque and make a major outdoor speech directed at the global Muslim community when he visits Indonesia next month, the White House said on Thursday.

Obama leaves on November 5 on a 10-day trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. On November 10 in Jakarta, Obama will visit the Istiqlal Mosque, and then make his speech from another, outdoor location, where there could be a large crowd.

“He’ll have a chance to talk about the partnership that we’re building with Indonesia, but also to talk about some of the themes of democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a news conference.

Does Pope Benedict sound different in a foreign language?

speeches 1Does Pope Benedict sound different when he speaks a foreign language? I’m not referring to his German accent — anyone following his visit to Britain these days can attest to the fact that he has one in English. But does he say the same thing when he speaks in his native German — or in Italian or French, two languages he also speaks fluently (and better than English). Does he present his ideas with the same words? Does the message come across in the same way? How does it “feel” to the listener? (Photo: Pope Benedict at Westminster Hall, 17 Sept 2010/Tim Ireland)

Benedict’s basic message is fundamentally the same, regardless of the language he speaks. But his speeches and sermons these past few days have sounded different from similar speeches delivered in other languages — and not just because they were in English. The speeches were shorter. The wording was at times more direct and the argument more succinct than in similar speeches on previous voyages to other countries. The speeches included several references to Britain and British history that his listeners would know and appreciate. He doesn’t usually nod that much in the direction of the local audience.

Having heard him speak in these different languages over the years, my first impression after listening to his speech to “representatives of British society” in Westminster Hall on Friday was how short it was. The main arguments in that speech — that religion has a role in public life and is not incompatible with reason — are central themes of Benedict’s papacy. He delivered a somewhat comparable showcase speech “to the world of culture” in Paris in September 2008. The Regensburg speech to “representatives from the field of the sciences” during his 2006 visit to Germany was also about faith and reason, although his use of a Byzantine emperor’s quote about Islam being an irrational and violent religion overshadowed the public perception of it.