Pope USA

9/25 NYC: Pope in the “Big Apple”



— All week long The Note has set aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father’s trip to the United States. 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, offers his take on an extraordinary few days:

–FR. RUSSO: “Pope Francis’s speech before Congress yesterday and his address to the United Nations this morning provide a prism to see firsthand his ideas and inner strength as a moral leader. And yet, his simple tenderness for the children outside the doors of the Holy See’s residence in Washington, D.C. give further evidence of his distinctive style and appeal. When taking a look at photos of Jorge Bergoglio from his early days as a youth, as a Jesuit priest, or archbishop, one rarely sees his smile. Now as pope, his public expression is joyful, like the gospel he represents. What changed is hard to gauge, but clearly his persuasive and effective public presence is more than his words, and more than “skin deep.”

“His presence that does not appear schooled or trained, rather authentic and real. His is not a version of the Kennedy/Nixon televised debates, where the make-up or the TV lighting makes for political and media success. There is something more here. Remember this is a man who had not traveled much of the world, until now. Nor does he have the gift of languages as Saint John Paul II; yet in his speech before Congress in English, people in the chamber and those of us watching on television held on every word. In my opinion, we must turn to his biography — and it is precisely where his personality developed in an Italian-Argentine household, his taking charge as the first son of immigrants, and who worked at small jobs, attended technical school and studied chemistry, and after his mother’s illness, learned to cook for the family. These early lessons in life that nurture seeds of “emotional intelligence,” and forecast a leader’s ability to deal well with people as a “moral authority.”

“Here, his family, the Jesuit community, his unique ability to draw on people, his San Lorenzo soccer team, and traveling as he did “shoulder to shoulder” on public transportation are important aspects of this form of intelligence. In all good human relations, feelings must be mutual. So it does not come as a surprise that the San Lorenzo soccer team is naming their new stadium in Buenos Aires after Pope Francis. The late psychologist Eugene Kennedy wrote about “moral authority” in which the authoring of relationships such as a coach authoring teamwork, or a teacher authoring new knowledge and insight among her/his students, or parents whose “parenting” provide livelong lessons of love, honesty, and resiliency.

“Kennedy calls this “generative moral authority” one that does not impose, rather provides life lessons that come back to us a “second nature” in the conduct of our moral lives.

As we listen to his United Nations address this morning, too few world leaders today have such personal connection and emotional intelligence; his is a distinctive style and appeal. Read more from Father Russo (@frmikerusso), at his blog, https://francisfactor.com/

NOTED: POPE FRANCIS OFFERS REBUKES AND REMINDERS TO US POLITICIANS. For the moment, a political pope was bigger than politics – and made American politics seem smaller in the process. The rapturous, bipartisan reception that greeted Pope Francis upon his entry into the House chamber – a place no pope has gone before – drowned out the considerable political noise outside the building. ABC’S RICK KLEIN has more. http://abcn.ws/1FiNBzo

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



Covering the Pope 

The morning began very early in New York City. I had to tidy the hotel room, because I wasn’t really sure when I would would get back for the 12 Noon check out time; an impossible check out for me and most of us covering the pope — as I told the people at the reservation desk. Down the Marriott elevator with their security code, so as to prohibit anyone from coming onto the upper floors — an arrangement so complex that I could hardly it figure out — running to elevators A to Z. Finally on the ground floor I assumed that taxis would be in ample supply. Totally wrong, the bell captain had to walk me to Times Square to find a cab, and once we located one lone cab, the driver and I sped up to the CBS Broadcast Center for my 6:30AM call to meet Chris Wragge, the WCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor, producer Stephanie Cassel, and Paul Viollis, the producer and on-air anchor of “Security Brief.”


The CBS driver took us to lower Manhattan and the Ground Zero, our CBS location was atop the W Hotel overlooking the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Here I provided commentary on the pope and the interfaith service at the Museum. It was among the most moving and well crafted religious services of the pope’s entire American trip. Only in New York, could you put together such a rich interplay of religious personalities and with a young cantor Ari Schwartz singing “A Prayer for the Fallen,” the musical accompaniment for this sober occasion.

Here’s Chris Wragge’s set up piece about the 9/11 Memorial and the pope’s visit.

Paul Viollis and I decided to break early and go downstairs for a quick coffee at Starbuck’s, where I ran into Susan Millstein whose husband is on the 9/11 Museum Board of Directors. The pope’s visit become the occasion where former Mayor Bloomberg can bring his grandson for a papal blessing, and where the various philanthropic efforts of the City of New York find added reason to support such vital cultural causes. Here’s a good example of where religious, culture and history work together.

What doesn’t work are the security arrangements for hotel elevators in New York City. Now mind you, I was with one of the nation’s top security experts, and together we could not figure out how to operate the W Hotel elevator that would bring us back to the top floor. Once we found a security guard with the right key, we took a sigh of relief and made it back to Chris, Stephanie and our broadcast team of camera operators.

As we waited for the pope’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, breaking news from Washington took immediate attention. Representative Speaker John Boehner’s surprise announcement that he was resigning as Speaker of the House would be moments away. Here’s where the complicated intersection of news could mean that we would not go on air after all, and the local station would bale out of the Interfaith Service, in order for the network news coverage the Boehner press conference. After a few minutes of calculation from producer in the control rooms at the Broadcast Center, we were back onto the original plan and the Interfaith Service. Boehner’s news would be left to the evening news.

Here’s the on-air coverage from a video recording at home by my niece Tina Phillips.

Part One —

Part Two —

Once the Interfaith Service concluded we darted down the elevator and drove back uptown, and most amazing the traffic on the West Side of Manhattan was not difficult. Our driver brought me to the 42nd Street entrance of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, so I could walk over to Yahoo News, for an interview with Alexis Christoforous; and a conversation with Katie Couric, the former CBS News anchor now working in the new online media.

Here’s the link,


From Yahoo, I returned to the Marriott Hotel, where by 3PM, I had long exhausted the check out time, and wondered how they would react to my need to keep the room? Well, they gave me another hour — for a shower, packing and the check out. So I found myself back in the media filing center/press room by 4PM, and ready to fall asleep in front of the computer. So much so, I needed a catnap, so I tried to find an available and comfortable seat in the lobby. Guess what? The Marriott because of it’s location on Times Square, has almost no seating for waiting guests. In fact, one has to sit within the confines of one of their restaurants or bars in order to sit comfortably. And if you do sit down, you must order a drink or a coffee in order to hold the seat.

Watching the television screen both in the media filing center and in the lobby of the Marriott, I could see reports on the local news of the Pope in Central Park, such as this —

Time was on our hands, as we waited the buses for NYC’s Penn Station, only eight block south of the hotel. With baggage and people, the bus was an essential to get though the Times Square crowd, for the 10:40pm train to Philadelphia.

From the 35th Street side of the station, our police guards brought us downstairs to the Acela waiting room — there I ran into Lester Holt, the NBC anchor, and sat next to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  We had an engaging conversation about the pope. I mentioned how Pope Francis appeared to pick McCarrick out of the crowd, most especially at the Interfaith Service, earlier in the day. McCarrick talked about how Cardinal Dolan appeared to mug the camera when on the “popemobile” — taking as much applauds and many of accolades as the pope himself. To my mind, when Dolan refers to the pope as “Papa Francesco,” his words and body language remind me of a much larger than life version of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. McCarrick and I talked for over forty minutes about his time in Newark, N.J.. and with the frequent interrupts by police officers and others coming up to say hello.

From the waiting room, the police guards equipped with guns and dogs escorted the entire group downstairs to the platform and the Amtrak train. For the many NY/NJ commuters at Penn Station gawking at us — we were a strange sight — three train car loads of USCCB staff, prelates, priests, and media. And as we attempting to stand on outmoded platforms of such limited size, I realized this is a train station so much in need of massive reconstruction and renovation.


The Amtrak Northeast Regional #139 departed New York at 10:05 PM and arrived at its scheduled time of 11:30PM at Penn Station in Philly. At the bar, I sat down for a beer with Brian Finnerty and his sister to talk about the papal tour, and hear about news from Florham Park, N.J.  Arriving at the train station, once again we were escorted to our waiting buses, and entered into the ghost city of Philadelphia; no citizen was on the streets, except for the armed National Guard troops. That night Philly gave the appearance of a “war zone” like Sarajevo.


Soon our line of white buses arrived at Market Street locations of the Lowes and Marriott hotels, just down the street from City Hall. As we gathered our luggage, we faced yet another problem of access.  Bishops, priests and staff were sequestered inside locked fencing that had no clear exit. To break open the fence, the guards needed an acetylene torch to cut through the dense metal. Even the attempts at shaking the fence did not work at first.  So we waited patiently when eventually the gate opened wide — like the Red Sea, and permitted the long line of to register at the hotels. The bishops went to the left and the Lowes Hotel, the staff went to the right and the Marriott.

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