Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Papal Transition: The Media Gathers In Rome

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Our three-person team arrived in Rome this morning amidst a media onslaught. It is challenging to accommodate media who want to interview cardinals and cardinals who still don't know what their schedule will be. Still, they're trying to reach the public through the ubiquitous reporters and commentators. For instance, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington is slated for ABC with George Stephanopoulos ( unless the pope decides he should be elsewhere) on Thursday after the cardinals meet in the Sala Clementina to say their goodbyes to Pope Benedict. NBC interviewed Cardinal Wuerl this morning.

Networks have platforms all around the Vatican. EWTN and NBC sit on the roof of the Augustinianum overlooking St. Peter's Square. The European Broadcast Union has set up shop on scaffolding outside the Vatican Press Office. ABC has a balcony at Holy Spirit Hospital on Borgo Santo Spirito (literally the neighborhood of the Holy Spirit), where they will interview Cardinal William Levada, former head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. CBS, meanwhile, is atop a convent roof a stone’s throw from the colonnade around the Square.

Many cardinals are staying at the North American College on the Janiculum Hill which also boasts a view of St. Peter’s. For some it is old home week. Eight U.S. cardinals are NAC alumni; Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Edwin O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, are past rectors.

Satellite trucks will pull in and out for interviews from NAC, where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Media Relations has set up an office. Catholic News Service’s video operation is filming from here, too. NAC seminarians present an impressive image of the church and are becoming media stars as their local U.S. outlets seek the stories of fellows from back home. The seminarians will likely have studies interrupted a bit but the living history education will stay with them forever. The pontifical universities cancelled classes today so students could attend the Wednesday audience, the last public activity of the pope. An estimated 150,000 persons filled St. Peter’s Square and overflowed down Via della Conciliazione, the broad street leading to St. Peter’s.

Media outlets are pouring resources into this and media pros tell me it is because their readers and viewers like religion stories. It’s always amazed me that, while more people attend church each Sunday than attend professional sports activities, newspapers devote an entire section to sports and barely a dozen column inches to religion regularly.

The time difference between Rome and New York benefits cardinal guests on morning shows. When it is seven a.m. in New York, it is one p.m. in Rome, so cardinal guests are wide awake. At home they have to be up very early to accommodate morning shows. Evening news segments will likely be taped because when it is 6 p.m. in “the city that never sleeps” it’s midnight in the Eternal City.

The story now is Benedict's legacy, but soon will move on to who will succeed him. The prognosticators will be in high gear, the Italian media will run quotes from those who don't know - the more salacious the better - and the Holy Spirit will breathe over all.


Sister Mary Ann Walsh is the director of media relations for the USCCB.

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