Pope USA

9/24 WDC: Pope on the Hill


ap_pope_visit_23_jc_150923_12x5_1600— The Note is 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, 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/, to reflect on the Pope’s day in Washington, DC yesterday and to preview Pope Francis’ speech to a joint session of Congress this morning.

FR. RUSSO: “The events of yesterday with the formal reception for the pope at the White House, the pope’s meeting with the American bishops at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, and the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra at the National Shrine marked a very full day for Pope Francis, and at times he appeared tired, and maybe more than overwhelmed by all the excitement. Such events are so large that perhaps no one person has a complete command of its totality. Even for us lucky enough to work in the press/media center or television control rooms, you can miss some of the speeches and movements, and only a few images register in your memory. Thus, we take our own personal — and at times — selective snapshots.
“For me, one amazing image of Pope Francis stands out, that of him riding in the ‘popemobile’ as his motorcade moved down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Saint Matthew’s Cathedral. The cheering crowds on the sidewalks, the fast pace of the Secret Service beside the vehicle, and the pope’s loving and smiling embrace of the few children allowed to come to him caught my attention. We have parades like this for presidential inaugurations, but this was one huge victory lap, and reminiscent in size to that of General Douglas McArthur’s return from the Pacific after World War II.
“I was watching from the tight confines of the pool TV control room located at the National Shrine and assisting with the timing of the liturgy, picking up but mostly listening to the commands of TV director Eric Siegel and Executive Producer Phil Alongi, as they carefully called shots to their twenty-three camera operators surrounding the outdoor altar and inside the basilica. From here the canonization Mass was seen on television screens around the globe and on the newer devises of the media age: iPads, tablets, smart phones, and even watches. At the end of the long day, the crowd waiting patiently for the pope on the steps of the basilica saw their own image on the giant television screen facing them, like at a football game — that televised echo of themselves. With a certain precision, they cheered on cue as the pope moved from the doors of the church and into his Fiat. It was there that thousands of the faithful waved to him — and to the world watching on the global screen.”


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


Pope Francis Visit to Washington DC - TV Crew

At the conclusion of the Canonization Mass on Wednesday, the production team simply captured the moment before the altar. The sun was coming down after a very long day. This was the view from the altar looking out toward the Catholic University campus.


Minutes before we could see on our monitors the pope making his way out of Basilica. So Alex and I were planning our own strategy by getting out of the television truck, and walk down the driveway, used by the television and satellite trucks, and go to the front of the building.


Well, there were eyes everywhere, even in the tightly secure backstage of the National Shrine, you see the here the pope’s Fiat L, but take a look at the left and the “gentleman with the strip tie” from the Secret Service. He had already spotted us, and told us to return to our television truck — for safe keeping. This would be the closest I came to the pope, consequently no selfie at that location.


The following day, Thursday morning, Michael Patrick Shiels of “Michigan’s Big Show” Team 92.1 FM, interviewed me. Tony Cuthbert, the producer of the program, is a terrific contact and someone who really seeks out his guests, for a listenership across the “Great Lake State.” Here’s the interview,


Downstairs at the Washington Marriott Marquis, the breakfast room was set aside for the USCCB personnel. It functions as a gateway to Church people from across the country, plenty of good stories and good people like Steve Pehanich and his wife Loretta. He’s the Director of Communication for the California Catholic Conference. He works with Kevin Eckery, a consultant to the California bishop on public policy issues. At the moment, I was on the telephone with the LA Times about Governor Jerry Brown and the pending decision regarding “end of life” issues. It’s a added pleasure to be at a breakfast conversation with people who have the “know how” not to dig yourself into a hole on such issues.

Back at the press/media filing room, several stories into the belly of the Washington Convention Center. I watched as the pope move from back stage of the Capitol, and finally being announced by the Sargent at Arms. Great anticipation for the speech itself, with everyone straining to keep up with his practiced English.

Here’s one very brief passage of that speech, and sometime all of us must give ample time for reading and re-reading his important message to the American people and their elected representatives.

Pope Francis states:

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities, which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.

In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”

“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

Following the pope’s speech to Congress, he went off to have lunch with the parishioners at Saint Matthew’s Church, the Jesuit parish nearby Union Station. The California delegation had an lunch invitation from Congressman Sam Farr of Monterey, however there was too much to finish up, and too much security to figure out how to get to the reception.

I took to the telephone with calls from Vince Hurley and Peter Umhofer. Both sons found tickets for their mothers who came to Washington and witnessed the pope’s speech. Good going! Hottest ticket in town, and everything appeared to wait until the speech concluded. I went back to my room upstairs in order to check out of the hotel, and leave for the train to New York City.

Meanwhile, I went over the nearby Bank of America, and on the way back I ran into Erika Yanez, our Monterey Diocese Communication Director. No one did more work on the canonization of Junipero Serra than Erika, a former news anchor and now working on behalf of the Bishop Garcia and the diocese.

We took a glimpse at the Washington Post with “the Francis Factor” headline.


Most of our Californians were heading home and  the West Coast, but the crowd of us going to New York, gathered at the buses. In transit, and carrying a handful of luggage, this is where I almost lost my cell phone. Thanks to the very careful eye of one of the Atlanta people on the bus, we caught eye on my lone cellphone at the curb.

IMG_0498Well, then on to Union Station, for the Amtrak 2172 train to New York City leaving at 3:55 PM. In the photo you can see the hidden profile of Father Ken Doyle of Albany, another of the veterans of Church Communications.

The baggage was piled high and brought to the train by the skycaps. Once I got on the train, I noticed to my dismay that my bag containing my laptop was on the very bottom of the pile, and crushed. I asked the conductor to have the handlers come back and replace the luggage. They conceded that the weight was simply too heavy a pile, so I took my piece, and placed in the overhead. I sat with Juan Di Prado and his Miami friends, including Mary Ross Agosta. Our conversation was mostly about the Bishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski who was appearing on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. As we were heading up the Northeast corridor, Mary Ross was getting updates from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Here’s the CBS Late Show interview:

At the bar, we meet up with Brian Synder, Matt Palmer, and of course, we talk Notre Dame football. Brian is graduate, and throughout the days together he was trying his best to get me to say Mass for his circle of friends in the Social Media group. Very social and very connected young Catholics.

We arrived in New York City Penn Station at 6:48 PM and headed by bus to the New York Marriott/ Times Square. No time to check out a Broadway play, but yet another long line to check into the hotel room; and simply to get ready for the New York minute of quick change, dinner and the next day.

Most of us had dinner at the hotel, where I sat across from Father John Geaney, the Paulist priest who is presently the pastor of Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a wonderful reunion with a man who has done more for Church communications for the many years I’ve known him, going back to 1975. We talked about the work of the Paulist Fathers including the indomitable Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser, one of the television pioneers of Insight Films.

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