Pope USA

9/27 Philadelphia: Pope Departs for Rome

POPE WEEK COMES TO A CLOSE — Last week The Note set aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father’s trip to the United States. With Pope Francis now back at the Vatican after a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia, Father Michael A. Russo, an expert on the papacy who served as a media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offers his wrap-up take on the visit:Popedeparts

FR. RUSSO: Yesterday in his speech to the American bishops seated at Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, Pope Francis admitted: “A Christianity which does little in practice, while incessantly explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced.” He added: “Christians are not immune to the changes of their time. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe, and proclaim.” Pope Francis’s understanding of “culture as a medium” of faith stands in contrast to those who hold Christianity to be “counter cultural.” Perhaps, this point of theological conflict will define a way of seeing his papacy and help us to better understand how we must adapt to better carry out our mission. Here the pope reminds me of the words of his fellow Jesuit, the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

As Pope Francis departed Philadelphia last night, he spoke with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden. The theme of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia was “The Family Fully Alive,” this sentiment has special resonance for the Vice President’s family, and all families of our nation and world. Mostly this week, Catholics and Americans alike witnessed Pope Francis’s capacity for “adaptive leadership.” This is a rare an example of “grass roots” leadership as the Church has ever experienced. To gauge Pope Francis, and this particular kind of “pastoral pope,” historians may have to go back to Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604AD). Gregory’s inventive leadership, and mostly his service to the poor of Rome are still celebrated.

Harvard’s Joseph Nye would classify Francis’s style as that of an “adaptive leader,” the leader who addresses the genuine needs of people, or constituents. After careful listening, he works within a process or method to permit hearing disparate voices, discerning or deliberating over issues or conflicts, making judgments, and then taking action. This style of pastoral leadership appears disruptive to the Vatican’s way of doing things. These management tools of his were on full display in his sermons and speeches, but mostly in his personal, intimate gestures yesterday among the inmates and staff of the Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility. This is a man that is more immediate and improvisational, and not willing to be packaged for theological journals or media/press releases. Francis calls for “apostolic courage” or parrhesia among his bishops, priests and church. To those still bewildered by his style of leadership, Francis replies: “Don’t worry, Peter is here!” In other words, “I am the pope, remember?” Indeed, Pope Francis was here and we are better for his all too brief journey among us. Read more from Father Russo (@frmikerusso), at his blog, francisfactor.com

For the complete ABC News “The Post,” here’s the link: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/note-donald-details/story?id=34099551

Covering the Pope — My morning began at the 8:30AM Mass at the Church of John the Evangelist, on Market and South 13th Street. I sat in the last row, and next to a bishop who was reading his breviary, the Divine Office, on his tablet device.


Now you may think that most people, just being in the area nearby the pope and the upcoming papal Mass would forgo the idea of going to the simple Sunday service. Well, think again, the church was crowded with many visitors, like the Indian woman across from me, in traditional native dress.

The presider was Friar Roger White, an OFM Capuchin priest, who along with a young Capuchin deacon from Africa, made for a devout Sunday Mass. Among the things that Father Roger prayed for was for the Holy Spirit to work in everyone, and especially the many pilgrims to Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families. Perhaps, stated best in the refrain of one hymn: “What do you want of me Lord? Where do you want me to serve you? I am your son.” Here’s an underlying theme of evangelization, the very work of Pope Francis.

This was my second exposure to St. John’s, I had come to Mass there on my preview tour three weeks earlier. At the time, I noticed in the church a good number of young people, members of the St. John’s Young Adult Community. Talking after Mass to three Lasalle University undergraduates, they were eager to greet the pope, and hoping to bring along their college community. On the Sunday of the pope’s visit, I noticed on local television news a short item about how the Lasalle University community walked from their campus to the Pope’s Mass on Ben Franklin Turnpike.

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The “Down Home Diner,” diagonally across from the Marriott Hotel, is located at the landmark Reading Terminal Market. It was my go-to counter eating place, with a great egg & ham breakfast and talk-friendly counter-mates. One morning, a workman next to me, said that as part of the city water department, his entire unit was housed overnight in the Convention Hall. They were not permitted to return home each night, and had to sleep on cots in order to be on the ready should the water go out. I told him that the pope would probably have wanted to sleep on one of your cots in order to identify with the vast number of workers whose lives and families were interrupted by the papal visit.


Another morning, I met a family from one of the Philly suburbans whose son Brian sat to my right. This kid would not talk, instead his mother filled me in on their strategy of how best to get in and out of Philly in all of the commotion of the World Meeting of Families. This family appears to have held up just fine, as were the countless thousands outside — nuns, bikers, groups from all over the country and the world. A young girl came up to me and thanked me for my years of priestly service. Another asked to go to confession. Well, this was a very Catholic crowd, and all heading toward the pope’s Sunday afternoon Mass.

Back to the hotel for a series of telephone calls which included Ginny Moran and her son Geoff, my godson and long time friends. Ginny invited be back to New Jersey for the “Bill Moran Annual Memorial,” a dinner in honor of her deceased husband, great friend of mine. Sorry to say, I was headed back to CA. Talking to Geoff about the papal trip and the complicated problem of too many internal emails on the USCCB Basecamp software, he filled me in on how the military in Iraq and Afghanistan developed “BLUF,” an acronym for “Bottom Line Up Front.” In other words, get your point across in the lead. Good friends and good advice. See you soon in NJ.

IMG_0517By Noon, I was back at the Press Center, located in the cavernous Philadelphia Convention Center. This was the final press briefing with Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman. Here he commented on the “pope impressive moments”during the American trip. He mentioned also the pope’s meeting with a family from Argentina who drove by car from Argentina. It took 194 days. Anyway, they met the pope.

The press panel included Bishop Chris Coyne (Burlington, VT), Bishop Edward J. Byrnes (Juneau, AK), Father Manny Dorantes (Chicago), the impressive multi-lingual translator, and Helen Osman, Secretary for Communication, USCCB, and organizer for the papal trip here in the United States.

Commenting on the pope’s speeches, sermons and overall personal appeal, Coyne said: “All are part of the same vision, how we forward ourselves as a Church with encounter, dialogue, and response.” Here is a link to the complete press conference:


As the afternoon moments counted down to the 4PM papal Mass on the Franklin Turnpike, many of us were still in the press/media center — answering questions, meeting people, and just hanging around which keeping a eye on the large television monitors. I went over to the Sirius/XM broadcast table and met with Father Gabriel Gillen, OP whose work has impressed me as someone interested in evangelization as well as trying to gain new recruits for the Dominican Fathers. I was interested in connecting with Liz Aiello, a producer for Sirius/XM and whose husband is a beat reporter for WCBS-TV Channel 2. So with time on our hands, Father Gab and I took our cameo with the multiple fake Pope Francis cutouts, which is next to the fake Liberty Bell. Just enough to prove you were in Philly for the occasion, and as close as we might get to the living pope and the genuine bell.


As reporters, camera crews and press/media staff members were heading to the buses that would take them to the Mass, Brian Synder of Golin Media introduced me to the incoming USCCB Chief Comm Officer, Jim Rogers. Brian is a Notre Dame graduate and one of the architects of the very successful “social media hub.” With Jim, I talked about the old, really old days of USCC-NCCB and mentioned my work with Bob Beusse, and his important influence on the Bishop’s Communication office under the direction of then Bishop Joseph Bernardin.

My comments about the pope and his extraordinary sermon at the concluding Mass in Philadelphia can be found in my own homily on the following Sunday, Oct. 4th. Here’s the link:


Most things come to a conclusion with a celebratory note, and this 9PM USCCB gathering ended our formal collaboration with the 800 or more staff and volunteers; and here I’m with Helen Osman who invited me to the dance. Her husband John, who I worked with in the TV control room, and as well as their family figured greatly into the success of the entire papal visit. She and John move back to Austin, Texas sometime soon.


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