Pope USA

9/22 WDC: Pope Francis Touches Down

Covering the Pope — Pope Francis will arrive at Andrews Air Force Base today (Tuesday) at 4PM EDT. Washington D.C. its citizens, the media and security are in full evidence this morning. So what have you been doing to prepared for this moment?


Since my arrival on Sunday evening, I’ve been attached to the media staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the host organization for the papal. As one of their “media experts,” I’m assisting with the pool television production of the canonization of Junipero Serra on Wednesday, and doing almost television interviews with reporters from among the 1,300 accredited news agencies from around the world. Already I’ve spoken on camera to audiences in England, Ecuador as well as California. Here Dan Green of KSBW Monterey interviewed me and Father Freddy Calvario of Salinas.

Monday (9/21), I sat in production meetings with Executive Producer Phil Alongi and TV Director Eric Siegel whose team of camera personnel with over twenty cameras as well as the TV control room staff will provide worldwide coverage for the papal Mass at National Shrine on the campus of Catholic University of America. They are estimating a crowd of 25,000 ticketed in the congregation, 20,000 surrounding the periphery of the campus, as well as people at the Washington Mall who will be watching on large screen televisions.


My job is to be in the control room providing my own assistance, along with young staffer Juan Alejandro Di Prado of the Miami Archdiocese whose fluency in Spanish, Italian and English will prove invaluable. Everyone gets concerned when Pope Francis goes off text, and our job is to know and report what the pope is saying even in those unscripted moments.


Listening carefully to both Eric and Phil, these are pros out of  ABC News and NBC News, and know how to convey the choreography of televised images and the music of a papal Mass.

So we’re still working at this today, and for a lunch break, I met with Robert Mickens at the Brookland restaurant & bar, directly up from the CU Metro stop. This area of Washington, D.C. has been dramatically transformed into a hot spot; and my selection of a grill ham & cheese sandwich was one of those unexpected excellent lunches. And more important, talking with Bob, one of the top journalists who covers the pope for the “Global Pulse” and the National Catholic Reporter in Rome is always instructive to more clearly understanding where the Church is headed in the era of Pope Francis.

Back to the hotel, I’ve been wasting too much time attempting to deal with interviews that did not happen.

For example, I had worked out an arrangement with KTVU Channel 2 TV Oakland to do a Skype interview with Misha LeClair for her late afternoon program. Big issue, the KTVU Control Room simply did not know how to deal with Skype, and somehow the on-line connection from their switcher to my computer would not function. We used up over one-hour of my time, for an interview that did not take place. I don’t mind helping others to understand the pope and the church, but I would expect the engineers in a TV control room to know their own equipment.

Worse, I spent a half-hour on the phone  with Susan Britton, a producer for KQED’s Forum program giving all the essential background to the papal trip, making recommendations on the direction and tone of the program, and how all this fits into Pope Francis’s agenda.  From the conversation I was to be at the top of the morning program, and provide the on-site atmosphere for the moderator and the guests in San Francisco.

Now I don’t mind assisting producers,  but it’s as if I gave them the focus of the program and even the questions. Later that evening I received a short email informing me they had gone with other guests. Really? So I was left with an impression that the entire conversation with KQED Forum was a not so subtle “audition” or “casting call” for a spot on the show. Very unprofessional, in my opinion.


At the press/ media center, back of the room, are John Thavis, the former Rome bureau chief of Catholic News Service with Sylvia Poggioli of National Public Radio. She had just arrived from the airport and the press advance. Sylvia and I were fellows at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center in 1990. As I was taking the photo, she called me over to greet me and tell me her husband Piero Benetazzo had passed away in the Spring. He was an award-winning correspondent for La Repubblica, and the first Italian citizen to win Harvard’s Neiman Fellowship.

Each day I’ve been adding my words to ABC News “The Note,” the daily political blog from Michael Falcone, their deputy political editor here in Washington.While the blog is essentially about the news of politics, the intersection of religion and politics has captivated the minds, and some of the hearts, of politicos everywhere.

So let me provide these comments of mine.

9/21 POPE WEEK IN THE NOTE. The visit of Pope Francis to the United States is set to captivate the attention of the nation this week and The Note will be setting aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father’s trip. As our guide, we’ve enlisted the help of Father Michael A. Russo, former professor of Communication Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California, an expert on the papacy who is serving this week as a media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Russo (@frmikerusso), who has been an on air commentator for CBS News and other networks on papal issues over the years, also blogs at https://francisfactor.com/ Ahead of the Pope’s arrival in Washington, DC tomorrow, we’ve asked Father Russo to tell us what he will be watching for as well as some advice he has for the 2016 presidential contenders this week:
FR. RUSSO: “Listening to the many voices here in Washington and around the country — what strikes me most is the space and attention given to Pope Francis, and the genuine affection and personal enthusiasm for him. So what should we be listening for in the next few days from the pope? His appeals for mercy and tenderness in a conflicted and wounded world may provide a way to examine our own personal and spiritual lives. And consider the lives of others, most especially those in need.
“Since we are in the prime time of presidential politics, this may be the one moment for candidates to avoid the dangers of trying to compete and for the rest of us to stop, and simply listen to the pope. When I think of Pope Francis, I regard him as the “parish priest” of the world, and someone most adept at providing spiritual direction. If there is a spiritual illness deep down in our collective souls, maybe it’s time to take a careful listen to the points he wants us to consider. You can agree with him or disagree, but please listen.
“By the way, this is the very work of the Jesuits, namely providing spiritual counsel, and conducting directed retreats. So consider this week as a “national directed retreat,” by a skilled Jesuit retreat-master, filled with sermons, speeches, and personal gestures of comfort and healing. As a “Shepherd of Souls,” that’s what Pope Francis does best!”

For the complete ABC News “The Note,” here’s the link:


9/22 POPE WEEK IN THE NOTE. Pope Francis arrives in Washington, DC later today for his week-long visit to the United States and The Note will be setting aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father’s trip. As our guide, we’ve enlisted the help of Father Michael A. Russo, former professor of Communication Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California, an expert on the papacy who is serving this week as a media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In today’s installment, we asked Father Russo (@frmikerusso), who also blogs at https://francisfactor.com/, two questions: Why do popes travel and what’s the overall goal for these visits?
FR. RUSSO: “This pope, like his predecessors, walks in the footsteps of the apostles, casting his presence and special grace on people. Several weeks ago, we saw a glimmer of this presence when Pope Francis appeared in a ‘virtual audience’ on ABC News with David Muir as moderator. The pope appeared to be deeply and emotionally connected to the participants in Chicago, Los Angeles and McAllen, Texas. He asked a student from Chicago’s Cristo Rey High School to sing for him, and added encouragement, ‘Go on, you can do it. Be courageous!’ Later in the broadcast, Pope Francis called out to a religious sister who works with recently-arrived immigrants in her border town of McAllen, Texas, and he thanked all religious women for their good works, saying, ‘I love you all very much.’
“His simple words of encouragement, in pitch perfect gratitude, speak to people directly and with sincerity. Such examples of “strategic communication” — the kind of persuasive language that is so hard to come by — is a unique gift possessed by very few leaders, and comes “person to person,” and only in limited supply. At certain moments, almost mysteriously, a Pope John XXIII, a Martin Luther King, a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Nelson Mandela have caught the world’s spiritual imagination and have possessed the moral authority to truly challenge the minds and hearts of millions. This visit of Pope Francis to our country places him among these extraordinary spiritual leaders.”

For the complete ABC News “The Note,” here’s the link:


7 thoughts on “9/22 WDC: Pope Francis Touches Down

  1. Looks like you’ll be quite busy the next few days. I’ll be looking for your comments as the pope’s visit continues. I was very impressed by his visit to Cuba and its message.


  2. Mike,
    We are keeping up with you on your blog. It is exciting for us to know someone who is so involved with the popes visit. We look forward to reading everything that you send and we will look forward to seeing you when you return home.
    Doug and Carolyn


    • Doug & Carolyn — Always good to know the Saint Monica friends of mine are so supportive.
      Well, we’ll keep following the pope, he appears to on the right path.


  3. Tell Pope Francis that a fan sez “hello”. Lobby him to make a “side” trip to St. Mary’s College, Moraga. CA.
    It’s tough not to get misty watching his fearless love for the “least of His brothers”.


    • Maureen & John — We’ve waited a long, long time for this pope.
      And most of all, thanks for being there for me and so many of our
      friends at Saint Monica. See you in CA.


  4. Pingback: Following the People’s Pope | michaelesoza

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