Tributes have been pouring in for Fr Emil Blaser, a pillar of Catholic media in South Africa, who passed away on 16 November. Russell Pollitt S.J shares some of his memories of Fr Emil, whose ministry went beyond the airwaves and is remembered for the attention and care he showed to those he met.
This week the Catholic Church in Southern Africa lost one of its most well-known clergy: Dominican Father Emil Blaser. Fr Emil died after a long and debilitating illness which forced to give up doing what he loved most: communicating with others on the airwaves.
Long before Fr Emil realised his dream of a Catholic radio station, he was already the face and the voice of Catholicism in South Africa. When the national broadcaster still started the day with a time of devotion Fr Emil would often be the Catholic voice on both radio and television. He knew that he would be reaching people across the length and breadth of this country and prepared the scripts for those slots meticulously – as a teenager, I saw them piled up in a box in the boot of his car! For many years he was a regular faithful voice on national radio and television.
But Fr Emil had a vision and a dream. He realised that dream when Radio Veritas was established. Despite a long struggle to get the station permanently onto the airwaves, Fr Emil never gave up. His passion for communicating drove him to leave no stone unturned and eventually Radio Veritas was granted a medium wave license. (It still can be found on 576AM).
Fr Emil became a household voice as he hosted the morning show on Veritas every weekday. He also led a daily devotion in the form of the Church’s evening prayer.
I remember Fr Emil as an altar server. He did a long supply in our parish while our parish priest was away. At that time, he was working for the Bishops’ Conference. He was able to connect with people, young and old. He remembered people from week to week and, after a while, remembered and inquired about things people had mentioned to him. He was interested in people. He cared for people.
Fr Emil instilled a keen interest in several younger priests and religious for Catholic media. He organised workshops when we were students, put us in contact with Catholic journalists and was always on the lookout for opportunities to further Catholic media. He was determined, sometimes against the odds. At times he felt unsupported by those in authority as he worked for the good of the whole Church.
However, Fr Emil was not only a giant in Catholic media. He was also a pastor and his work in media was always guided by his pastoral sense. I remember him calling people after he had been asked (on air) for prayers for a youngster who had died tragically. He followed up afterwards and then visited the family. I remember too taking a six-year-old to meet Fr Emil. He listened to him every morning on his way to school. The little boy was starry-eyed about meeting the voice behind the mic. Fr Emil was in no rush. He spent a while talking to the child, asking about his school and life and offering him biscuits and milkshake.
The Catholic Church has lost a great broadcaster, a man who worked hard to ensure that his passion and vision were realised. He was courageous and tenacious. The Church has also lost a man who had a pastoral heart. But, most of all, Fr Emil Blaser was a good human being who had other human beings at heart. He deserves our gratitude.