Pope Francis’s travel schedule to Cuba, the United States and the visit to the United Nations has gone live on the Vatican Website.
I will be traveling to the RNA meetings in Philadelphia, where on Friday, August 28th (4:30PM EDT) there will be an important overview of the pope’s trip with Archbishops Charles J. Chaput (Philadelphia) and Joseph Kurtz ( President, USCCB).
My preview tours of New York and Washington, D.C. have helped better prepare for the September 22-27 visit of Pope Francis. I will be working for the USCCB — in the press/media filing centers and TV Pool control rooms. I’ll be among the “experts” providing assistance to the 7,600 journalists, reporters and producers and the 1,800 accredited news/media organizations. This is a daunting task of leadership/coordination for Helen Osman, the Secretary of Communications for the USCCB, and her staff. I’m delighted to provide assistance in the days ahead.
Here are my recent notes from the NYC and WDC tours: and the most update follows from Philly.
8/9/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day One
On the 51st. Street side of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the restoration continues as the deadline for Pope Francis’s visit on September 22 is in the back of the minds of many — including the Cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie.
On the steps of the church, after the 10:15 Mass, Ritchie is going about the business of pastoring — by greeting person to person, hundreds of guests, and many from around the world. This is the one thing that really tells the story of New York City — how international and global New York has become.
Gearing up just one block away, you could hear in the background the bands preparing for the Dominican Day annual parade. Fifth Avenue stores are mostly the shopping sites for the high priced global brands; on the crowded side walks, there are those selling the knockoffs items from vending carts.
The Cathedral has undergone a major reconstruction, and most of the scaffolding has come down in the past few weeks after two or more years of work. The total cost of the construction has been estimated at $175 million. Enough reason to have a second collection at all the Masses.
8/10/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day Two
I was invited to a day-long editorial meeting of America Media, the publisher of America Magazine, the weekly Jesuit pastoral and thought journal. It was held at Chelsea’s Hugo Hotel. Father Matt Malone led the discussion among editors, writers and staff members about their coverage of Pope Francis’s trip to United States. Chief among their concerns was the “broken and divided” Catholic community, and how the pope’s visit might help to heal the fractured and often polarized positions among the various camps that make up the Church in America. Additionally, they were developing their own strategy to best deploy staff members and effectively cover the papal trip, as well as their new collaboration with ABC News.
Matt Malone and Father Jim Martin will be the on-air commentators for David Muir and ABC News special events coverage of the papal trip to Cuba and the United States. This was a perfect opportunity for me to hear first-hand from Father Jeremy Zipple about the future direction of America in the transition to multi-media platforms. As well as meeting up with old friends, like the veteran reporter and news analyst, Father Ray Schroth.
8/11/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day Three
I was working the telephone this morning, and catching up with old friends who are a great source of news. I took the Lexington Avenue subway up to 89th Street to have have lunch with Father Kevin Madigan, the pastor Saint Thomas More Church. Kevin tells a great story that when Pope Benedict visited lower Manhattan and the 9/11 site, there was an informal arrangement with the NY Chancery staff that the pope with Cardinal Egan would pass by Saint Peter’s Church — where Kevin (who was the pastor of St. Peter’s at the time) would be standing in formal vestments and equipped a holy water bucket, readied for the pope to bless the Church. This the very first place where the victims of 9/11 were taken after the fall of the Twin Towers. No one had informed the NY City Police and the Secret Service, consequently officers removed Kevin from the front of his own church. So, in the limousine, the Holy Father and the Cardinal sped by, thus nixing Kevin’s possible encounter with the pope. The NYPD later apologized to Kevin.
Later in the afternoon, I joined Brother Mike O’Hern of Christian Brother Investments, and we went to see “The Best of Enemies,” the recent documentary film about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s debate during the ABC News coverage of the 1968 Republican and Democratic Conventions. The film makes important case about how television news changed from the “news of verification” and news gathering to another news form, namely the “news of assertion” and opinion.
Buckley and Vidal were at their best with ad hominem arguments — where conflicting opinions polarized viewers into particular market segments. Of course, this is the stuff of today’s cable television news. Need I mention Donald Trump and the recent Fox News 2015 Republican Presidential Debate?
Later Mike and I talked about where we were at the time the Chicago Convention, and how as a young Christian Brother he listened to the divided views of his own community watching on TV the unfolding riots in the streets of his city. Also, Mike and I discussed the pope’s recent encyclical, and how the pope’s views on capitalism might be better understood on Wall Street. Again, friends are very helpful to expanding my own knowledge and vocabulary, Mike introduced me to “impact investing” and the notion of how Wall Street investors could better support specific social needs and also obtain beneficial social/financial results.
8/12/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day Four
Lunch with an old CBS News friend like David Buksbaum ties together the personal pieces to my NYC trip. The meeting place is always Luke’s on 3rd Ave between E. 79 & 80th. The conversation continues back into the 1970’s — when “CBS News was CBS News,” and David was my CBS boss; and a most unconventional boss at that! In those days, I worked on the national political conventions, elections as well as the papal funerals/elections of new popes, and John Paul II’s extensive trips. In the days before Wikipedia and YouTube, I had the job to update the pope handbook, and from time to time review the pope obit, just in case.
David tells me that in early September there will be a memorial for Sandy Socolow at the Columbia J School. “Soc” had been Walter Cronkite’s producer; and back in summer of 1969, I had the “once in a lifetime” chance to work as the”desk assistant” for Sandy when he managed Cronkite’s on air-performance for the Apollo 11 broadcasts. Shortly after the astronauts landed on the moon, Sandy handed me the now-famous NYT’s “Man on Moon” bull-dog edition, which I handed over to the anchor desk, and Walter lifted the newspaper toward the camera’s lens. Well, that TV moment registered into the collective memory of the nation.
In the afternoon, I traveled by #6 Lexington Avenue subway down to lower Manhattan for an interview with Alexis Christoforous at the Voice of America. Their offices at Jacob Javits Building 26 Federal Plaza, and close by Wall Street and the new “Freedom Tower,” and 9/11 Memorial where the pope will participate in an inter-religious ceremony on September 25th.
For the interview, Alexis asked me questions relating to the pope’s critique of capitalism, the disparity of people’s incomes in the “Third World,” and the Global South. I got in Brother Mike’s ideas about “impact investing”; and yes, I sounded like I know something about finance and economics. I met the VOA staff including Bureau Chief Bob Leverone.
Stay tuned for a cultural news note. On Wednesday evening I attended “An American in Paris.” In reading the Playbill, I noticed that Garen Scribner who plays Jerry Mulligan, the Gene Kelly role in the film, was a former member of the San Francisco Ballet. Then I realized — this is the same Garen Scribner who graduated from the LEAP Program (for dancers) at Saint Mary’s College of CA. What a performance — a Mikhail Baryshnikov who can really sing! At the stage door, Garen told me, “Yes, I am a Gael!” Bravo, Garen!
8/13/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day Five
My time at the New York Athletic Club is coming to a close. I’m staying here thanks to Frank and Joan Maxwell of Orinda — whose membership at San Francisco’s Olympic Club permits me entry to this old institution on Central Park South. After three room changes, I finally landed in a room that is air-conditioned and facing toward Carnegie Hall and Times Square — clearly this location has its benefits.
Funny, however, the NYAC has many arcane rules — especially about dress: No shorts, or sneakers (“siders” in NYAC lingo) in the lobby; and men must wear a jacket with collared shirt in order to enter the main doors. If you are dressed in athletic apparel, you must enter/exit on the 58th street side.
To accomplish this feat, you take the designated elevator to the third floor, nearby the pool (closed for summer repairs, ugh!) and walk now three flights in a circular fashion to arrive at the back lobby. This could be a problem for carrying suit cases (up or down), and I witnessed members of LA’s Jonathan Club trying to do this.
Because so many people use this narrow staircase — you get to meet a whole range of people — going up & coming down. For example, I ran to Ben Biles, a former member of the Navy Mens basketball team; he’s now studying for his MBA at the University of Virginia. I spoke with Pat Cantwell and his son Patrick, a recent graduate of Washington University of Saint Louis where he played four years of varsity football. I took the opportunity to tell them that Jack Stephens our star – QB from Campolindo High, Moraga will be joining the Washington U team for summer camp.
So up and down the back staircase of the NYAC has its advantages!
Marcy McGinnis is another of the former CBS News Special Events veterans, and we had breakfast at Europe Cafe on W. 57th Street. Marcy held several top posts as bureau chief in London where she directed coverage of the death/funeral of Princess Diana; and a senior news director in New York before moving on to higher education as a dean at SUNY Stony Brook. We spoke about the upcoming papal trip and how John Paul ‘s extensive trips around the globe provided rare opportunities for us. Each of these major events brings into the ranks young journalists and producers, and an opportunity to learn the craft first hand. As teachers and educators we know how internships and mentoring are vital to the next generation of young people especially in this new age of social media.
Late morning, I sat on a Central Park bench to speak with one of those exceptionally talented young adults, Chris Duffy, the host of NPR’s “You’re the Expert.” Chris is not yet out of his twenties, a graduate of Brown University, with insights into comedy writing, undergraduate education, and religion. He told me to check out his website, and listen to his experience at a wedding of friends in Greece. An American priest gave a “word for word” translation in English of the very fast paced Orthodox priest performing the wedding. Let’s say some things are too rapid for cogent translation from Greek to English.
We ended our park bench conversation with the idea the we’ll see one another on the West Coast. As we said goodbye — the words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola came to my mind: “It is dangerous to make everyone go forward by the same road, and worse to measure others by yourself.” In Chris’s case, he has picked the perfect route for his unique journey.
Gabriele Bandelli is a native of Florence, Italy and just completed his first year at Saint Peter’s University, Jersey City where he is a member of the varsity soccer team. Gabriele is the grandson of Bernard Hartnett; and along with Fathers Gene Squeo and Francis Schiller, these are my closest friends. All three are lawyers and my support team over these forty years as a priest. Back then I was a “rookie priest” at Saint Aedan’s, a church off Journal Square which is now under the direction of the Jesuits at Saint Peter’s. Hearing the news of this “city on the Hudson” always bring me back to that “attitude of gratitude” that Pope Francis speaks about. Another first, we dined at Komegashi, the Japanese restaurant, where you can see the NYC skyline and the river, at Newport. Gabriele is doing just fine and coaching soccer during the summer months.
8/14/15 Pope Preview Tour — NEW YORK/Day Six
While packing up at the NYAC, Chris Wragge, the WCBS-TV news anchor, telephoned to say that we were off for coffee because he was on-hold for the breaking news of a fireman who had been injured. However, he asked whether we can do an interview that would go into the “bank” of preparations for the pope in New York City. I changed back into my black suit, and then rode the elevator down to West 58th lobby, and then a fast paced walk to the CBS News Broadcast Center. These back streets are so familiar, and there on 9th Ave., the “Flame Diner” caught my eye; one of the all night places for “take-out.” As a desk assistant in the news room back in the late 60’s. I did the catering for those producers, reporters and editors. Once I knew the menu by heart.
Chris asked whether New York City would be ready for the pope? To my way of thinking, New York and Washington D.C. know how to handle world leaders and large crowds, not so much Philly. In the words of television, stay tuned.
8/17/15 Pope Preview Tour — Washington, D.C./Day One
From the Senate side of the Capitol Rotunda, we take a glimpse of the U.S. Capitol, still under re-construction. A site that is readying the opening of Congress after the summer recess, and there is great anticipation for Pope Francis’s visit on September 22. His speech to the Joint Session of Congress takes place on Thursday, September 24th at 9:20 AM. According to the Washington Post, this is “D.C.’s Hottest Tix? The pope” (8/17/15). Rep. Dan Lipinski comments: “Even before I knew that the official announcement was made…I received the mail from my wife saying, ‘Don’t give my ticket away.'”
Across from Catholic University of America, and the National Shine of the Immaculate Conception, there is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), where I met with Helen Osman, the Secretary of Communications. We spoke about the papal trip, and I signed on as one of the USCCB media/press representatives for the papal visit. Along side Helen and several others members of her staff, I will help with the 7,600 credentialed reporters and journalists filing stories and provide insight and know how in order to better capture the story of Pope Francis in the United States.
Among the concerns about coverage is the interplay of various agencies of government including the Secret Service, as well as the various entities that make up the Church such as the Vatican, USCCB, Archdioceses of WDC, NYC & Philly. Another aspect of this particular visit by the pope is the altered media landscape of those representing “social media,” and the media platforms that did not exist in the time of Pope Benedict’s visit in 2008.
Additionally, the 2015 visit of Pope Francis brings together many of us who have worked previous papal trips; and in the case of pool producer Mark Kramer, we began at CBS News covering the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Consequently, for me, this is adult “summer camp” and a time to work with old and new friends.
From Helen’s office, I toured the National Shrine, for the purpose of seeing first-hand the site where the pope will formally canonize Blessed Junipero Serra on Wednesday, September 23rd at 4:15 PM. From the back of the church I watched the maintenance staff cleaning the floors and the pews; and I spoke with Francis Raedel, one of the security guards from Arlington, VA, who told me that the dome high above the main nave will undergo the application of mosaic tiles honoring the Holy Trinity, sometime after the pope’s visit.
Michael Falcone, deputy political director for ABC News, and I had dinner at Proof, nearby the National Portrait Gallery. We talked about the presidential race, and how Washington outsiders like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are taking the early lead in the national polls. Interestingly, outsider status and personal authenticity, even the querky authenticity of Trump’s outsize personality appeals to audiences. So too, this is part of the leadership formula in an age of social media — where the outsider and frank authenticity have strong appeal.
8/18/15 Pope Preview Tour — Washington, D.C./Day Two
Hot and humid August days in WDC are not so pleasant. So the morning was spent in my room at the Phoenix Park Hotel, and working my contacts by telephone.
Over the years, my former students from Saint Mary’s College have joined the ranks of Washington lobbyists, journalists, and those “in the know” around Capitol Hill.
Peter Umhofer was my very first Saint Mary’s student who really aspired to the political life. For the past twenty years Peter has worked in the environmental field, and is a lobbyist for these concerns; and the pope’s recent encyclical has jumped started a whole new set of alliances for Church members and environmental organizations. So the pope’s talk to the Joint Session of Congress, could be a barnburner.
After lunch, Peter took me to the office of Senator Barbara Boxer to pick up a ticket to the U.S. Capitol. I took the afternoon tour of Statuary Hall where the statue of Father Serra is honored under the dome of the original chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. Each of the fifty-states has two statues on view. Ronald Reagan is the other California honored there. Also, there are three Roman Catholic priests and woman religious in the collection including Father (Saint) Damien of Molokai (Hawaii), Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette (Wisconsin), Mother Joseph Pariseau, S.P. (Washington).
Vince Hurley works for Adobe Systems in Washington, and with his wife Jackie, they have three young children. Vince is originally from Aptos, CA and lives on Capitol Hill. Very convenient location for his work. He is presently the president of the Saint Mary’s Alumni Chapter. The Gael alumni are eager to welcome to their ranks Megan Collins, a current junior at Saint Mary’s. She was selected by the Panetta Washington Internship Program for a Congressional Internship which begins in two-weeks.
8/27/15 Pope Preview Tour — Philadelphia/Day One
From my room on the twenty-ninth floor of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, you can see the statue of Benjamin Franklin atop City Hall, and in the distance the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the site where Pope Francis will celebrate an outdoor Mass.
I’m attending the 66th Annual RNA (Religion Newswriters Association) Conference meeting here in Philadelphia with most of its scheduled panels geared to the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. The World Meeting of Families is set to begin on September 22, and with city-wide anticipation of Pope Francis’s visit for weekend of September 26-27. From the airport to the hotel, the highway billboards for Hilton Hotels and the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann are already in place to welcome the pope, and the thousands of visitors expected.
Today’s RNA program brought together journalists and scientists, for a discussion entitled “Forefront Science for Religion Reporters: What does it Mean to be Human? Implications of the Search for Life Beyond Earth.” Along with Jennifer Wiseman, director of AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics & Religion, Father Lucas Mix, a Harvard astrobiologist, talked about how the planets in outer space went from a list of 9 down to 8 planets (with the exclusion of Pluto); and by 2015 with the Hubble telescope, satellites with glimpses beyond our solar system, to a list of planets that has greatly increased to 1,887 — with 300 planet-candidates among the most hospitable to life-forms. These discoveries prompt stories for reporters about the boarders of science and religion, questions of ethics, and how astronomy can be a portal of service to uplift the human spirit.
Mix concluded: “We have to make the most of our lives — in memory, reason and skill. Most of all, God’s in charge — as we deepen our curiosity and love. But, in the end, we are not totally responsible, (God is)!”
In the evening, the Marist Poll presented their findings of a recent public opinion survey on the views of Americans and American Catholics at the eve of the pope’s visit. Afterwards, the producer of the new Sony Pictures feature “Risen,”presented film clips. The film is a sequel to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” and continues the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection with the back story of a Roman military officer Clavis, played by Joseph Fiennes. The dinner was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
The Catholic Academy of Communication Professions provided an audio transcript of the key panels that preview the Pope’s visit to the United States. Here’s the link:
8/28/15 Pope Preview Tour — Philadelphia/ Day Two
This morning’s conference gather three-hundred or more journalists and audience members to take in a complete walk-through of the papal visit and the World Meeting of Families. Helen Osman speaking on behalf of the USCCB and the American bishops provided the detailed background to the papal visit as well as the media participation of what is now a press/media corp of 8,000 credentialed professionals covering the visit. Donna Farrell, the executive director of the World Meeting of Families and Ken Gavin, the director of the Office of Communication of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia provided background for a gather this will attract the 17,000 families from 100 countries, and projected a million or more for the “Festival of Families.” The last time Pope John Paul II came to Philadelphia was 36 years ago, and Ken Gavin pointed out that “Philly was chosen” this time, for this world event, and “makes it unlike NYC and WDC.” Among the highlights will be a concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Saturday night — with tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The next day, Sunday Mass will be celebrated on the Parkway where countless thousands (with the potential million in attendance) for the final Mass with Pope Francis presiding.
Greg Erlandson of Our Sunday Visitor moderated the panel “Pope Francis — Myths & Realities.” He forecasted a “tsunami of coverage” regarding the Pope’s visit to the United States. He referenced the pope’s concern that we need to avoid a Church wrapped up in its own world, instead meet the genuine concerns of people. Father John Paul Wauch of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome) addressed the theme of mercy — as the one word that interprets Pope Francis’s papacy. Wauch points to the French Church in Rome, next door to the Casa dell Clero, now famous as the residence where Cardinal Bergoglio stayed while in Rome. The French Church contains two paintings by Caravaggio, “The Call of Matthew,” and “Martyrdom of Matthew.” Pope Francis prayed before these paintings, and saw these art works as depicting “mercy in action.” This is the central theme of his papacy.
Addressing the question of what the pope may say to the United Nations, Prof. Maryann Cusimano Love (Catholic University) suggested four “P’s” — poverty, planet, people (impact of economy on), and peace. She made the case that all three are people connected issues. The pope is deeply concerned about the “globalization of indifference. He is going to the United Nations on the occasion of the world organization’s 70th anniversary. So the pope looks forward to the upcoming Paris meetings on climate change, and deeply interested in care for the present crisis among migrants and refugees in Europe. So “all hands must be on deck” to address these concerns and others; not a job for the “right or the left,” in his view these ideological divisions have no meaning.
To better appreciated Pope Francis, Alejandro Bermudez (Catholic News Agency) examined his South American cultural and political context, most especially how the immigrant experience best defined him in Argentina. The idea of going out to the people on the periphery is deeply rooted in contemporary Latin American philosophy.
Pope Francis’s concern about “spiritual worldliness” and how the “restoration of mercy” is the best cure for such an illness in the Church are key insight for Austen Ivereigh. For the pope, “mercy unlocks conversion” and forces the Church to focus on mission and evangelization. Here’s where Junipero Serra becomes a model for reaching to the periphery in the New World, and in an effort to build culture. Here is where the South American notion of “patria” also draws on the immigrant experience for him and his family’s own journey to Argentina.
“What to expect from Pope Francis” was the lunch time presentation by Father Thomas Rosica, Salt & Light/Canada. His experience of Francis tells us of a pope that is not pigeonholed. Rosica cites the incident of a penance service at Saint Peter’s where the pope invited the participants to go to confession. Then, the pope himself went directly to a confessional box, leaving a lasting example of his own need for reconciliation. So gestures are an important part of this pope’s appeal. Rosica make a point of reference to #88 in “Joy of the Gospel,” as a “return to normalcy” and the importance of the “revolution of tenderness.” This is a key to Francis’s thinking, relating to people, and his ability to listen to people. His effort is to relaunch the Church’s mission, especially in places like Cuba where he will encourage a church that has suffered greatly.
Archbishops Joseph Kurtz (President, USCCB and Louisville, KT), Bernardito Auza (Observer to the United Nations), and Charles J. Chaput (Philadelphia) spoke at the Bishop’s Panel on Pope Francis & his visit. Father John Wauck was the moderator.
Archbishop Kurtz encouraged everyone to simply “enjoy the visit” of the holy Father; despite the day-to-day preparations for such a massive event. Kurtz had four point to make about the visit. The pope comes as pastor and prophet but with Christ as the center, and not the pope. Second, freedom to serve means to bring out the best in us, a faith the enriches public life. The pope’s gestures tell us that he see and embrace first and foremost the person with conversation and surprise. Lastly, he is interested in the support of families in need.
“Look at things from the proper frame,” Auza told the journalists present. And you will find that Jesus is the center of everything — not the pope, not Peter, not even the Church itself. Rather Christ. Pope Francis comes to the United Nations as a pastor, father, and a religious and moral voice. Issues such as climate change and the very anniversary of the United Nations are ways of affirming the importance of this world organization.
Following the financial debt and morale in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput (pronounced “Chap-you”) admitted he was stunned when he heard of Philadelphia’s selection as the site for the 8th World Meeting of Families. However, four years later the event and especially the visit by the pope give evidence of a “turn around moment.” The archbishop spoke about the challenges such an event creates as well as the opportunity to enlist the larger community of good will, including many non-Catholics as well as government, the business community and generous donors. Chaput hope is that the pope sees the diverse immigrant fabric to American society as well as the deeper social issues that confront us. Most especially how American Catholics share his passion for the “joy of the gospel that comes from the gospel of life.”
In the question and answer period, Archbishop Kurtz is confident that the pope will meet with the survivors of priest sex abuse; but the is no firm advance of this beforehand. Another reply concerning how the institutional services of church and government might better address the issues of poverty in American, provided a reminder that the pope would rather that people were personally involved with the poor. Parish efforts of the Saint Vincent de Paul society are a vital way for people to take responsibility for neighbors.
8/29/15 Pope Preview Tour — Philadelphia — Day Three
For the lunch session, Greg Smith and Jessica Hamar Martinez presented the findings of a new Pew Research poll which confirmed the finding that U.S. Catholics were open to non-traditional families; while there is deep and wide abiding loyalty among Catholics and those who are connected to Catholics. The Pew Religion & Public Life Project is among the very best research organizations; and the poll drew a sample of 5.122 adults with 1,016 persons who self identify as Catholics. Here is the formal release of the Pew Research poll:
An afternoon session entitled “Church in the City: Thriving, Dying or Just Getting by?” brought together ecumenical and interfaith leaders, Rev. Leslie D. Callahan (Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist), Shane Claiborne (Founder, The Simple Way), and Alvin Sanders (Senior Vice-President, World Impact). Bob Smietana of “Christianity Today” was the moderator. All of these speakers addressed the visit of the pope as an opportunity for all people of faith. Leslie Callahan sees that the pope’s moral muscle will bring greater attention to racial justice in the USA. “We hold the soul of the city in our hands” Alvin Sanders told us, and asked how do we preserve the souls and at the same time deal with both tradition and innovation?
Shane Claiborne noted the pope has thrilled and fascinated the world. Such religious movements help shape all life. Drawing from Matthew’s gospel, Claiborne added that “when you welcome the stranger, you welcome me. So welcome Pope Francis, and know that there are so many popes on the ground.” The Simple Way, is an intentional community dedicated to social justice and activism in the city of Philadelphia.
Late Saturday afternoon David Gibson (RNS) moderated a group of veteran journalists who have covered the “pope travel beat” for “How to Cover a Papal Trip in Three Easy Steps,” with David O’Reilly (Philadelphia Inquirer), John Travis (CNS), Austen Ivereigh (author, “The Great Reformer”), and Father Thomas Rosica (Salt+Light/Canada). Gibson remarked how the pope travels story comes at you like a swiftly kicked soccer ball, and you have to be ready to react, as the ball comes to you. He spoke about the evolving and changing nature of papal trip and how paralyzing security routines can alter your best intentions as a reporter. For example, the story of John Paul II’s trip to Cuba coincided with the opening days of the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky saga, and how political reporters decamped from Havana and returned to Washington, D.C.
The man with the most miles on papal tours maybe John Thavis who recommended that reporters pay attention to what the pope says and how it connects or disconnects from the long-term story line. He cites the recent example of a grief-stricken 12-year old girl in the Philippines who asked Pope Francis, “Why does God allow this?” The pope simply embraced here. Here’s the story of the pope’s intimacy and closeness to his people. Austen Ivereigh address the matter of the scripted and unscripted moments of Francis’s public statements and one that must be carefully understood, so it’s a matter of listening and even waiting to get the full intent of speeches and interactions with people. Since even the unscripted portions of speeches are “on the record,” and thus this drives the story for everyone following him, both in the press and on his Vatican press staff. Also, the press conferences on the airplanes typically come at the end of the journey. However, there is so little time between the Havana stop and the arrival in WDC, that Iverrigh suggests that there may be a pre-Havana on board press conference to highlight the pope’s intentions for the overall trip.
With the most direct personal experience of Pope Francis, Father Tom Rosica has acted on behalf of the Vatican staff, and has edited the pope’s own public statements. Also, Rosica brings into the discussion the religious benefits for such an apostolic journey. He say that as pastor, the pope comes to strengthen and confirm his brothers and sisters in faith. Of course, it’s a complex set of invitations and staff members, including: 2 Swiss guards, 2 Vatican police, security details, papal household members, a liturgical team, a doctor, butler and members of the Secretariat of State, essentially for language translation. Among the Vatican staff, Dr. Alberto Gasbari is in overall command of the trip; and in the planning stages, there is give and take, with the archbishops in dioceses that the pope visits.
Rosica concluded by reaching back to the Acts of the Apostles, stating the “shadow of Peter fall upon them,” as an early sign of how the role of the chief shepherd makes his journey among the faithful. Rosica added: “goodness brings out goodness” when we have the pope in our midst. We’re better for his presence among us.
8/30/15 Pope Preview Tour — Philadelphia/ Day Four
The last few hours of the press/media tour put us into buses — to see first hand the actual sites in the city where the pope will visit. We left the Lowes hotel to pass by the Philadelphia Convention Center where the press/media operation will be housed, and went directly to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, on 18th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Signage was in place for the pope’s visit as well as a “beehive” structure to the left of the cathedral. This contains the prayer intentions of parishioners written on fabric — and tied in knots to the wooden structure. This is a reference to “Our Lady of Knots,”the particular devotion of Pope Francis. Here, I spoke with Tim O’Sullivan, the contractor, and Henry Crane who was helping to tie the knots, of an art work designed by Meg Saligman.
Later we travel the short distance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the imposing Greek Temple, which is famous for its famous art works but also the movie “Rocky,” where the stature of actor Sylvester Stallone, rests to the right of the museum. This portion of the Franklin Parkway will be the site of the final Sunday Mass for the World Meeting of Families, as well as the Saturday afternoon, “Francis Festival.” Essentially, this area of Philadelphia will be shut down for the weekend, however the relative distance between venues are close to one another.
From the Museum, we headed the offices of the Archdiocese for a box lunch, and the press backgrounder about the World Meeting from Meg Kane. She works for the public relations firm, Brian Communications, and to my observation is the master of logistics and the details for this incredibly complicated weekend of events. She responded to the variety of questions regarding the upcoming events — everything from how to pronounce Archbishop Chaput’s name (“Chap-you”) how to obtain the right credentials, traffic patterns in Philly, and water distribution on the Parkway site. Also too much detail to wrap your head around.
Overall, the Philadelphia Archdiocese under the direction of its Communication Director Ken Gavin has 5 members, along with the World Meeting 501-C3 Non-profit organization with 15 members, and Brian Communications Agency of 22 members, make up the total number of communication professionals. Along with volunteers coming out of the larger Philadelphia area. The Archdiocese is comprised of four counties and has 1.5 million Roman Catholics.
If the 19th century popes were considered the “prisoners of the Vatican,” the current pope is a “prisoner of Secret Service.” The security element to this papal trip dwarfs all other, and it’s fairly amazing to combine both an international meeting of 17,000 families along side the mammoth complication of a papal trip.
Philly’s Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, were the last stop on our tour. This is where the pope will deliver his address on religious freedom. Brian Finnerty (U.S. Communication Director, Opus Dei) and I walked back to the Lowes Hotel where I waited for my shuttle bus to the airport.
Here’s a final point about the thousands of us in three cities — and who working on behalf of this papal tour. To my observation, Catholics of all sizes, shapes, ages, and even with particular ideologies or coming from differing political camps are pulling together, day by day to welcome the pope, to my mind, the spirit is really working. And this sign of unity is a good thing.