Fr. Franz Josef Eilers SVD (1932-2021), one of the founding fathers of the Catholic Media Council (CAMECO), passed away in Manila on Wednesday, the 13th of January. One of the main advocates for the foundation of CAMECO in 1969, and its second Executive Director from 1971 till 1985, his name is inextricably linked to the history of CAMECO. A luminary in the field of church communication as well as the social aspects of communication and media, he was also a passionate teacher and a prolific contributor to academic literature.
Serving as the Executive Secretary of the Office of Social Communication of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC), the Director of the Asian Research Center for Religion and Social Communication (ARC) and Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, Fr. Eilers helped shape the Church’s communication approach in important ways. He also supervised numerous doctoral and master theses on social communication at the University of Santo Tomas, where he helped to establish the degree programme "Pastoral Communication".
In 1968, Fr. Eilers co-founded the journal Communicatio Socialis, which has remained a central forum in German language for media ethics and church communication to the present day. In 1981, he initiated the publication of the Communicatio Socialis Yearbook, which drew on the knowledge of internationally renowned experts such as Nora Quebral of the Philippines, Frank Ugboajah of Nigeria and Gaston Roberge of India. In 2003, Fr. Eilers founded "Religion and Social Communication," a journal published from St. John's University in Bangkok and dedicated to interfaith communication in the Asian context. His broad academic interests are also reflected in his numerous books, ranging from “Christian Journalism in Africa” (1964) and “Communicating between cultures” (4th ed. 2012) to “Communicating in ministry and mission" (4th ed. 2018). In recognition of his outstanding contributions in the field of Church and social communication, the Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) awarded Fr. Eilers the 2018 ‘Transformative Leadership Award’.
As one of the pioneers in the field, he looked at media and communication not merely from a technical standpoint but also from one that involved the social, intercultural and relationship-building aspects of it. In this regard, his perspective may be deemed almost prophetic as it predates the emergence of social media by several decades.
We will miss his sense of curiosity as well as his untiring enthusiasm for thinking about communication from a holistic and human-centered point of view.
May he rest in peace!