Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Thursday Holiday

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

We're off work Thursday and Friday at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, USCCB president, gave us Thursday off in honor of the election of Pope Francis.  Good Friday always has been a holiday here. I hope giving us Holy Thursday as a day off continues. It is not a holy day of obligation, nor is Good Friday for that matter, but Holy Thursday is special to me. It celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, which lies at the heart of our Catholic faith. Maybe my warm feelings for the day go back to when I was a kid taking part in Holy Thursday processions and later as a teenager visiting churches to pray at beautifully decorated altars of repose.

A few years ago a young adult who wasn't a churchgoer asked if she could go to Mass with me on Holy Thursday. I said sure, but wondered why the sudden fervor. Come to find out that Holy Thursday was a big day when she was in college because students involved with campus ministry at  her school followed the Mass of the Lord's Supper with a pizza party. I am sure there was some connection to the meal in the Upper Room with the disciples, a shared supper among close friends. My young friend couldn't articulate it, but she knew the day was special, even if Sunday Mass was not at that point in her life.

Pope Francis will continue the custom of leading the Stations of the Cross at Rome's Colosseum on Good Friday. The Vatican has released the prayers he will say at The Vatican selects different groups of people annually to write the prayers. This year young people from Lebanon wrote them.

We're still debriefing after the papal transition. We've asked communications direrctors who were with us in Rome to come here in May for a post-up. It's not hard to get people to come to Washington in the spring. We're looking ahead too -- to the Catholic Media Convocation in Denver in June and World Youth Day with Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro in July. Working to spread the Gospel can be fun.

Have a blessed Triduum and a happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Staying at the Domus

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Well, I'll be dining out on the fact that like Pope Francis, I too have stayed at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guest house at the Vatican that the pope has opted for over the papal apartments. He'll get a two-room suite. I had a single room when I stayed there about a year ago while at meetings in Rome.

The Domus means still more simple living for Pope Francis, who is making simplicity the hallmark of the start of his papacy. (I just called a colleague who is slated to be at the Domus in the spring to alert her to the fact that the diner in all white at the next table [or maybe hers] will likely be the pope.)

Vatican reports say the pope chose the Domus for community -- he can share meals with Vatican staff who live there and with visitors, for example. It has a nice size chapel and also is walking distance to his church, St. Peter's Basilica. The phones work well, which may be no small matter for the man who continues to call old friends and aquaintances despite his recent promotion. Security used to be tight at the Domus because of its location inside the Vatican. It will be tighter now, for sure.

The pope's plans for Holy Thursday will be simple too. Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, Vatican spokesman, said the Mass of the Lord's Supper that the pope will celebrate at a penitential institute for minors will have but two concelebrants, the institute's chaplain and Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome. Around 10 girl and 40 boys will take part in the Mass and the pope will wash the feet of 12 of them. About 150 people in all are expected to attend. The youth will give the pope a wooden crucifix and kneeler they made in a workshop, and the pope will bring them Easter eggs and a traditional Italian Easter cake shaped like a dove.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco stopped by the USCCB today for an interview with Catholic News Service. He was in town to speak at a march on the U.S. Suprerme Court, which today heard arguments on Proposition 8, the California law that said marriage was defined as between a man and a woman. Tomorrow the Court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law which states that for federal government purposes, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. We can expect decisions on these cases in June, at the end of the term.

Met with media relations staff to discuss what's on the agenda for after Easter and it's immigration, with an audio press conference slated for April 3, featuring Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City. Archbishop Gomez chairs the bishops' Committee on Migration and Bishop Wester, the Committee on Communications.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Back To The Office

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

The new energy in the Catholic Church has people wondering what Pope Francis will do next. Soon eyes will focus on his trip to a detention center in Rome where he will offer Mass and wash the feet of troubled youth on Holy Thursday.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs reports that Pope Francis is drawing applause from its constituencies, the Christian and non-Christian religions with whom they are in dialogue. The Secretariat is justly proud of the huge response they got on Facebook and to a blog by Father Ronald Roberson. Father Roberson focused on the pope’s attention to ecumenical outreach and 13,000 people saw a Facebook post about the blog, the USSCB's most popular blog post last week.
Overall, posts on the USCCB Facebook page last week reached more than 800,000 people with more than 42,000 people engaged in posts, record highs for the page. People are connecting with the images of Pope Francis and are inspired by his kind works, including taking care of the poor, the disabled and the young.

A CNN star pointed out to me in Rome that the church got lots of free publicity with the papal transition. Perhaps, but the nets were not doing a favor for the Church; they were responding to viewers glued to their TV sets, even to watch a smokestack.

Stopped by the offices of Msgr. Richard Hilgartner and Father John Guthrie to thank them for being TV commentators during the papal transition. Msgr. Hilgartner spent long hours on CNN and Father Guthrie spoke on ABC. Haven’t seen Father Juan Molina yet to thank him for his help with Spanish-language media.

It’ll be a short week because we’re closed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. However, tomorrow and Wednesday will be busy as we monitor U.S Supreme Court arguments on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, popularly known as DOMA. Prop 8, which was passed by the California electorate, said marriage is between a man and a woman. DOMA, a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton, said marriage is between a man and a woman as far as the federal law and programs are concerned. The Obama Administration, however, refuses to defend the law in court.

Feelings are strong for and against redefining marriage. Arguments about adults’ right to marry whomever they want show little less sensitivity to the right of children to have a mother and a father. A change in the understanding of marriage would be a lawyer’s dream or nightmare, and hundreds of laws relating to protection of spouses and children would have to be revisited.

Holy Saturday will be special for tens of thousands of people who will come into the Catholic Church or into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil, Saturday night. Among those entering will be some who were never baptized, some who were baptized in another Christian tradition and now wish to become Catholic, and some who have let their religious obligations lapse and want to reconnect with their faith. They have prepared for this through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Conversion stories are often interesting and reveal the way God touches souls, often through spouses, teachers, neighbors and friends.


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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pope Francis Reaffirms the Path of Dialogue

By Father Ronald Roberson

Pope Francis met today with representatives of Christian churches, ecclesial communities and other world religions who had come to Rome for his inaugural Mass. He received them seated on an armchair at floor level, rather than on the customary raised throne.

After he was greeted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis thanked him for his remarks, referring to him as “my brother Andrew.”  This was significant because Andrew is the patron saint of Constantinople and Peter is that of Rome; the two represent two ancient churches who are trying to retrieve the fraternal relationship that the two brother apostles had.  This was most probably the first time ever that an ecumenical patriarch was present at the inaugural Mass of a pope.

Pope Francis recalled the significance of the Second Vatican Council for ecumenism, and quoted Pope John XXIII who said at the opening session of the council, “The Catholic Church considers it her duty to actively work so as to bring about the great mystery of that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed so ardently to His Father in heaven on the eve of his sacrifice.”  He went on to say that, “For my part, I wish to assure you, following in the path of my predecessors, of my firm will to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue.”

The new pope also reminded the representatives of the Jewish communities of “the very special spiritual bond” that links Jews and Christians.  He quoted from Vatican II’s Decree on Non-Christian Religions, which states:  “The Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets.”  The pope said that he looked forward to the continuation of the fruitful dialogue that has accomplished so much in recent years.

The Holy Father then turned to the representatives of other world religions who were present, especially the Muslims who, again quoting the Council, “adore the one, living and merciful God and who call upon Him in prayer.”  He said that the Catholic Church is– and he repeated this twice for emphasis – “aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions.”  He went on to say that the Church “is also aware of the responsibility that we all bear to this our world, to all of creation, which we should love and protect. And we can do much for the good of the poorest, of the weak and suffering, to promote justice and reconciliation, to build peace. But, above all, we must keep alive the thirst for the Absolute in the world, not allowing a one-dimensional vision of the human person, in which humanity is reduced to that which it produces and consumes, to prevail. This is one of the most dangerous pitfalls of our times.”

In this brief address, Pope Francis has made it clear that he intends to continue the path of dialogue that the Catholic Church has followed since the Second Vatican Council.


Father Ronald Roberson is associate director for the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB.  

Note: The USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has received many messages of hope and support for Pope Francis. We have posted excerpts from these, as well as a sampling of statements from world religious leaders internationally.

Watch a Catholic News Service video on the meeting:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Five Things To Remember On March 19

1. Pope Francis was inaugurated today in Rome. Pope Francis even traveled in the popemobile and there were two special moments that have caught the attention of many people. He greeted a young child and walked over to a man with ailments. You can see both moments in this Catholic News Service video.

2. USCCB president Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, offered his congratulations to Pope Francis on his inauguration, saying, “On the joyful occasion of the Mass to inaugurate your ministry as Bishop of Rome, I wish to convey to you the deep affection, prayerful support and sincere pledge of fidelity of the Bishops of the United States of America and the more than 70 million Catholic faithful throughout the 195 dioceses and eparchies across our nation.”

3. Earlier today, Sister Mary Ann Walsh took part in the coverage of Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass in Rome. You can read her reflections on the day.

Sister Mary Ann notes in her blog that she is leaving Rome soon. During the last three weeks, she’s given daily insights into the Conclave, the election of Pope Francis and the first few days of his papacy. Catch up on all the blogs at:

4. Amidst all of the papal news, one important item that might have gotten lost during the last week: Bishop Richard Pates, of DesMoines, who is the chair of the USCCB Justice and Peace Committee, visited the Chaldean Church in Iraq. Learn more about the bishops’ work in the Middle East

5. God loves you.

Reflecting On Pope Francis' Inauguration

By Sister Ann Walsh

People got to St. Peter’s Square early this morning for the Inauguration Mass of Pope Francis. CNN was to send a car for Don and me but called at 7:45 a.m. to say roads were blocked, so Don and I walked to their platform. Our colleague Mar, meanwhile, had a spot on a balcony overlooking the square.

I was on the set and Don provided moral support. Others on CNN included John Allen, CNN’s Vatican correspondent, and Jim Bitterman, CNN European correspondent. I’ve known them both for a long time. We sat there for three hours, one hour before Mass commenced and two hours afterwards. Msgr. Kevin Irwin of The Catholic University of America worked in the Square. In New York were the co-hosts and their guests: Raymond Arroyo of EWTTN, Msgr. Richard Hilgartner of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Paulist Father Edward Beck. Chris Cuomo, a new CNN anchor, also was there.

 I have a new respect for people who do this work. The set was at the end of Via della Conciliazione, the boulevard that leads into St. Peter’s. They shared it with several other networks. John Thavis, former Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief – who was working for ABC – was on the platform below.

I wanted to look sharp on camera so I took off my coat. Two hours later I was freezing, but couldn’t do anything about it with a microphone wire going down my back and a mic on my lapel. The greatest challenge was the noise. The set was near a hospital so ambulances whizzed by periodically. Police car sirens formed regular background noise too. Meanwhile the sound system from the Mass blared and CNN staff from New York were commenting through ear buds. It was not ideal, though it worked.

On the set you hear misinformation you can’t correct. For example, someone said the “IHS” in Pope Benedict’s papal crest was Latin. Actually it is Greek – the first three letters of “Jesus.”
The running theme these days is Pope Francis’ simplicity, and it showed in a briefer than usual Mass  – only two hours – which is short by Vatican major liturgy standards.  The brevity was achieved in part by cutting out the offertory procession and having a representative group of cardinals – six— instead of all go forth to pledge allegiance to the pope. (They‘d all already done that the night of Pope Francis’ election.)

The crowd seemed to go halfway down Via della Conciliazione, but media suggest it was smaller than expected. My own experience with large events is that would-be attendees can be discouraged when they hear media projections of huge crowds and congestion. Yesterday’s reports suggestion a million people would show up. The Square and Via della Concliazione together are estimated to max out at 250,000.

There is much to mine in the homily and print reporters will do that. Twice Pope Francis declared “We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness.”  It sounded like a call to reach for the ideal life. On today’s Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church,  Pope Francis  emphasized the protective nature of St. Joseph and called on the church to protect creation, the weak and those in need. It seemed a poetic reminder of social justice themes on the preservation of life and every stage and standing with the poor.

There’s still excitement in the Rome air, but the first thing I did after Mass was print my boarding pass for tomorrow. I’m heading home.


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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pope Francis Puts Emphasis On Mercy

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

If the Jesuits were pleased before that the new pope was one of them, they must be over the top, now that Pope Francis has released his coat of arms. The dominant figure in the heraldry is the Jesuit symbol, IHS, from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus, surrounded by a sunburst, with a cross above the letter “H” and three small nails beneath. Under the sunburst, on a blue background is a five-pointed star on the left, symbolizing Mary, and on the right, an aromatic spikenard resembling a grape bunch, signifying St. Joseph. It is the same coat of arms Pope Francis had as archbishop of Buenos Aires, except now it rests on the papal keys and beneath a miter. His motto is the episcopal motto from his ordination as bishop: “lowly but chosen.”

He met today with one who had been his nemesis, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. They have clashed over political issues such as gay marriage, but she brought him a gift – a gourd and straw -- to hold the Argentine herbal tea he reportedly likes. He received her with a kiss, first time she’s ever been kissed by a pope, she said afterwards.

He uses the word “mercy” often, which touches my heart as a Sister of Mercy. Given that and yesterday’s homily at Mass and his Sunday Angelus address afterwards, we’re seeing an emphasis on compassion over judgment and an invitation to seek forgiveness from a God who is waiting to offer it.

This evening I attended a reception sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in honor of Vice President Joseph Biden and the U.S. delegation to the inauguration Mass.  Among those in the delegation are Jack DiGioia, president of Georgetown University, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Vice-President Biden noted the installation will be on the feast of the saint for whom he is named. 

He spoke of his love of theology and having even discussed  theological concepts with popes. Also there was the chaplain of the House of Representatives, Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy. He was especially pleased when I told him the pope’s coat of arms included the insignia of the Society of Jesus.

Tomorrow promises about one million people to pack the square and overflow down via della Conciliazione and into all the side streets. I’m supposed to be on the set of CNN. Hope I get there.


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

Five Things To Remember On March 18

1. Pope Francis will be inaugurated tomorrow in Rome, becoming the 266th pontiff in the Catholic Church’s history.  The Mass will begin at 4:30 a.m. on the East Coast. Learn more about his coat of arms and motto.

2. Sister Mary Ann Walsh has been blogging from Rome during the papal transition. She says that Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff, improvisational style has many on their toes, and his messages are simple, yet thought-provoking. His comments about wanting a Church for the poor is gaining attention.

3. Mar Munoz-Visoso, executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church,  writes about “Francesco, the great communicator” in both English and Spanish.

4.  If you want to get a sense of how Pope Francis approaches people, this Catholic News Service video will give you some great insights.

5. God loves you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Has Simple, Yet Profound Messages

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

A bone-chilling day in Rome did not stop 150,000 people from overflowing St. Peter’s Square for the first Sunday Angelus address of Pope Francis. 

Don Clemmer and I strolled down to the square after 11:30 a.m. for the noon address. The mass of people stunned us. The Sunday Angelus always draws a crowd and can fill the square on days like Easter, but the overflow pouring down the wide Via Conciliatione that leads into the Square caught us by surprise. We stood in the broad boulevard and could see Pope Francis on a big screen erected nearby. The crowd was pleasant and chanted “Francesco, Francesco, Francesco,” using the Italian form of Francis.

The simple, yet profound messages that characterize this pope continue.

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just,” he said from his apartment window overlooking the Square. The theme echoed his homily at Mass earlier in the nearby Santa Anna Church, just inside the Vatican gates. At Mass where the Gospel was about the woman caught in adultery, the pope said sometimes we can be like people wanting to stone the sinner.

“I think we even are sometimes like these people, who on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand sometimes we like to stone others and condemn others. The message of Jesus is this: mercy.” 

For me, Sundays in Rome have always meant Mass, the Angelus and Sunday dinner. After the noonday greeting I inched my way through the crowd to the home of longtime friend Marjorie Weeke, who for many years worked at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.  We went to nearby Da Roberto’s on Borgo Pio and were joined for dessert by Wendy Granato of Houston’s ABC 13. Houston media are following Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Wendy was still happy about her interview with Cardinal DiNardo the night the pope was elected. 

Marjorie’s son Stephen is working as a producer for NBC News for  the papal transition. Usually he spends his time in the San Francisco area. Today he was in Assisi with Maria Shriver, who is working on a TV special. Stephen grew up in Rome so knows his way around town better than most.

I attended Mass at the North American College this morning. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was the main celebrant and concelebrants included Cardinal DiNardo and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. Visitors at the seminary liturgy included Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune, faithfully following Cardinal George.


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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis Meets The Media

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Pope Francis met with media today and the pope from Argentina continues to delight the public.

The audience was at 11 a.m. so Don, Mar and I set off for the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican just after nine.  We arrived none too soon. The line was blocks long and it felt like security was letting people in one by one. We surmised that we’d stand in line for an hour and a half and then at the last minute security would rush everyone through. We were right.

Near us in line were a crew from WPIX in New York, Dennis Coday and Josh McElwee from National Catholic Reporter, and David Gibson, of Religion News Service. Dennis said NCR’s website has gotten a huge number of hits during this papal transition. At one time, 18,000 people were on it at one time. NCR staff were grateful the site didn’t crash. I noted that the U.S. bishops’ site,, has also done well and spoke of the video on Pope Francis that Catholic News Service videographer Robert Duncan put together. Everyone’s talking about it, even people at the Vatican secretariat of state.

The two-minute video has heartwarming footage from the pope’s meeting with the cardinals yesterday, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. It shows Pope Francis whispering something into Cardinal George’s ear and both laughing heartily. This morning I asked Cardinal George what the pope said, but he’s not telling.

I’d estimate the audience hall had well more than 5,000 people. I sat next to Kathryn Lopez, editor-at-large for National Review Online, who was furiously typing into her Blackberry.

As is becoming his custom, Pope Francis, a Jesuit, strayed from his prepared remarks, this time with a story about choosing his name. When during the Conclave he received the number of ballots needed for election, the man next to him, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, whispered to him: “Don't forget the poor!”

“And those words came to me: the poor, the poor,” Pope Francis told the journalists.  Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.  Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end.  Francis is also the man of peace.  That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.  For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?  He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

Afterwards, cardinals joked his name should be “Clement XV,” to pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of JesusP in 1773.

“Oh how I would like a poor church and a church for the poor,” he added.

After the pope’s address, Vatican media staff and a small number of journalists chosen by lot greeted the pope personally. One reporter, who is blind, was led by a guide dog that the pope bent down to pet.
Afterwards Don, Mar and I stopped at the press office to get copies of the speech but they were not yet available. Papal ad libbing holds up their process.


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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis Has A Style All His Own

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

A somewhat calm day, and a reason to be grateful as work will pick up again.

Electrical Power was off  9-10 a.m. this morning as the college does work on the apartments in the Wall, where our office is located. The wall was the place staff of North American College had housing in years back. Now it’s used for guests and faculty. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta was our neighbor for a few days this week while serving as commentator on ABC. He left yesterday morning for home after winning rave reviews.

Morning shows on Sunday are getting organized and cardinals will be featured guests. Nothing finalized yet, just some reaching out to communications directors.

Pope Francis’ style will make work harder for journalists. He ad libs or even rejects entirely speeches written for him. That means the Vatican cannot always distribute speeches ahead of time under embargo. Today in his meeting with the cardinals he ad libbed so much the Vatican had to do some hurry up work. The press office  got the Italian text out a while after he delivered  his address but the text in other languages were slated to come later.

The pope greeted each of the cardinals personally today. Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa gave him a yellow band bracelet. An official reached to take it from him, but he instead put it on.  Still do not know what the wristband signifies but someone called it a “faith bracelet.”
He greeted the cardinals as “my brothers,” another sign of what looks to be a down-to-earth relationship with the College of Cardinals.

Don, Mar and I went to the media briefing at the alternative press center. Father Lombardi told a few anecdotes about the pope, who is still living at Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hotel inside the Vatican. He noted, for example, that he comes late for breakfast and so takes a seat wherever he can find one. No place of honor for him.

Questions were wide-ranging.  People sought details of Mass of installation. There will be separate sections for priests, for handicapped, for diplomats, etc. CNN wanted to know what number pope he is. Answer: he’s 266th pope , the 265th successor to St. Peter. (I think the information was available elsewhere too.)

This new bishop of Rome won’t take possession of his church, the Basilica of St John Lateran, until after Easter so he’ll celebrate Holy Thursday services at St. Peter’s instead of St. John Lateran, the usual site for the pope’s Holy Thursday service.

Cardinal McCarrick stopped by our office for a meeting with Ann Rogers, reporter from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who had earlier interviewed Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, a Pittsburgh native.  When asked what he said to Pope Francis when they met, he said he didn’t say much because he got all choked up. Prior to the Conclave Cardinal McCarrick, a non-voting cardinal because he’s over 80, was touting the praises of Cardina Jorge  Borgoglio, whom he had met on his many travels.


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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Humble Pope

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Delighted cardinals walked about the North American College this morning as seminarians and staff congratulated them on a job well done, electing Pope Francis, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere.  Doing interviews into the early morning hours couldn’t dampen their spirits at breakfast.

Messages abound and one can expect to learn more from what Pope Francis does than from what he says.  Instructions for what to wear for upcoming meetings suggest that  the simple style he is known for continues. Today, the cardinals were advised to wear the  black house cassock rather than the more formal red choir robes with white surplice. Asking the people in the square last night  to bless him before he blessed them came across as startlingly humble. The prayerful silence that fell over  the square revealed the new bishop of Rome already had touched hearts. There’s a  new energy in the air.

The morning TV shows are easy because, for this week, seven a.m. in New York is noon in Rome. Some networks are coming up to North American College to do their interviews. Others, such as NBC,  are transporting the cardinals to their set.

Media ingenuity always entertains me. Last night, despite rain and cold, some reporters sat on the steps outside to do their work and watch for returning cardinals. Even though we opened the comfortable auditorium to them, others sat on the floor inside the front door. I laughed as photographers lined up with cameras facing the front door to catch the entering cardinals because I heard they were coming in from the back. The joke was on me, however. While most of the cardinals, who were in a  van, did come in the back way, Cardinal Dolan came by car and entered through the front, a gift  to the picture-starved reporters.

Cardinal Adam Maida, over 80 and so not an elector, is now doing media interviews and a Detroit station slated him for 2:30 p.m. for a program back in the Motor City. I set out to find him when he didn’t answer the phone in his room. On my way I met Mike Clark, a member of the U.S. bishops’  National Review Board and an anchor from a Pittsburgh TV station. He was  awaiting Cardinal Donald  Wuerl, a Pittsburgh native , former Pittsburgh bishop and now cardinal archbishop of Washington.  Mike reminded me that Cardinal Wuerl is the seventh cardinal from the Steel City.

Someone told me he had seen Cardinal Maida walking around the courtyard praying the rosary. I continued the search and met an ABC producer who needed to get up to the NAC roof for interviews with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Wuerl. I brought her up to see the magnificent view of St. Peter’s but still no Cardinal Maida. I ran into colleague Don Clemmer, who was setting up an interview for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston,  and told him of my search. He said he was looking for Cardinal McCarrick for an interview.  I stopped in the kitchen  for a cappuccino, then went back to the office. There I found Cardinal McCarrick doing an interview with France’s daily La Croix. Afterwards I enlisted him to help find Cardinal Maida. At this point, the over-80 cardinals have more energy than I.

Planning becomes a challenge when the principals are sequestered. The answer “We don’t know” became uncomfortably familiar last evening. “When are the cardinals coming back?” We don’t know. “Will you have a media conference tonight? “ We don’t know. “What are the cardinals doing now?” We don’t know. Plans were in place, of course, but they were tentative because a vanload of cardinals, sequestered for even two days, can change  even the best laid plan.

This morning we heard why the cardinals were late. They were eating dinner with the pope and couldn’t leave before him.


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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We have a pope

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sat down to write my blog a few hours ago, looked up at CNN and saw white smoke.

With a cold rain drizzling down, I had said to people heading down to St. Peter’s Square for the smoke watch, if anything happens we’ll use the auditorium for a media holding pen – though we were all sure it wouldn’t happen.

Earlier in the day we had discussed how to accommodate media. Each network wanted a cardinal on its set. We worried we’d never be able to get cardinals through the crowd and decided it was better to broadcast from North American College. We sent out word to each network advising where they could park trucks. CBS decided in late afternoon to create a “set” in a basement classroom of NAC. While we awaited the pope’s appearance on the balcony, Charlie Rose joined us in the office before one of our TV sets.

Media arrived soon after the balcony appearance to wait for the cardinals. Finally someone got through to a friend at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. He found out they were having dinner. As the night wore on, media wondered if they should bail. Then someone else got through to say that they’d be back at NAC to meet with media at 11 p.m. We announced that, and media who were ready to pack up sat up straight.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan was the first one back, to be greeted by seminarians who lined up to cheer the cardinals home. They chanted “Cardinal Dolan” and in return he said that on the evening of March 19, the day of Pope Francis’ installation day, he would host a party for the students. As they cheered him on, he headed in to meet with media who awaited him in the auditorium.

Vintage Cardinal Dolan, he told delightful anecdotes about the new pope. Pope Francis is humble. When someone wanted to speak with him he asked them to hold off because he didn’t want to keep the people in the square waiting. There was a white chair on a platform for the new pope, but Pope Francis eschewed it, preferring to stay on the level with the cardinals. The popemobile was readied for his trip to the Domus, but like the others from the conclave, he opted for the bus; in Argentina he was a regular bus rider.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who arrived minutes later, did his first interview with ABC News. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago did his first with CBS. Then all three cardinals met with their local media. NBC, which has set up shop just next door at the Propaganda Fide (Propagation of the Faith) college, originally wanted to interview Cardinal Dolan on their set there. But as the hours marched on, producer Stephen Weeke realized time was of the essence and even just a few minutes more for travel would not work.

Earlier when reporters worried they wouldn’t have a cardinal for the evening news, they realized that media stalwart Cardinal McCarrick, an over-80 cardinal, thus too old to vote, would be a great interviewee. CBS called from New York for him, NBC decided they wanted an interview too. Meanwhile, Wolf Blitzer was calling to do a phoner.

About one a.m. we looked at the NAC hospitality committee who were helping everyone, and decided we could go back to the office for supper – shortbread cookies, thanks to ABC. We checked emails. Mar Munoz Visoso arranged for Cardinal McCarrick to Skype tomorrow with students at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, Maryland, so he can tell them about their new pope.

It’s going on two a.m. Ann Rogers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is working on a story – we have great Wi-Fi – Mar is doing e-mail and, for all I know, Cardinal George is still doing interviews with reporters from the Loop.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Papal Transition: The Conclave Begins

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

I was up early to see the cardinals off to the conclave. Paul Haring of Catholic News Service arrived before 6:30 a.m. to set up the room for the class photo of the eight cardinals who left from North American College: Cardinals Daniel DiNardo, Timothy Dolan, Francis George, Roger Mahony, Edwin O’Brien, Sean O’Malley, Justin Rigali and Donald Wuerl.

We sought a measure of decorum so we advised the mostly photographers and a few pencils that there would be no shouting questions. I jokingly added if any did I would tackle them. The photographers thought that was a great idea. Seminarians lined the road and clapped as the bus rolled down the driveway. It’s a rainy day, but the rain stopped briefly when the cardinals boarded their bus.
Don, Mar and I got great seats for the Conclave’s opening Mass and were in a section to receive Holy Communion from the celebrant, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. The feeling at the liturgy was solemn, not excited like a U.S. election experience. Before Mass we prayed the Rosary and sang the Salve Regina. Cardinal Sodano’s homily drew sustained applause when he mentioned “the beloved and venerable Pontiff Benedict XVI, to whom we renew in this moment all of our gratitude.”

When he spoke of Christ giving himself to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” thunder rumbled in the skies. It seemed like a resounding emphasis of the homily theme of service and of papal ministry built on efforts of previous popes so that “the future pope may continue his unceasing work on the world level.” Mass was in Latin but the Mass booklets had translations in English and Italian. Apparently regular use of English in the Mass booklets at St. Peter’s began a couple years ago.

Roman flexibility exhibited in the basilica when about 12 vested priests couldn’t find seats. The usher simply told two rows of us who were already seated to move our chairs back. Because we were in the back row of the section, I was afraid this would become a trend and we’d move ourselves out of our section. But luckily we only had to make one extra row.

We left by a side door, which turned out to be the cardinals’ egress too. One young man from a Roman junior seminary stood outside with a glossy sheet of pictures of the electors from the L’Osservatore Romano newspaper, and cornered cardinals to sign their photo. He was energetic and odds are that he got a papal signature for his work. Among those I saw signing their pictures were Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila. The cardinals were heading to the nearby domus sanctae Marthae, their residence during the Conclave, and a number of people greeted them as they went home for lunch. I didn’t identify any reporters in the area.

Last night ABC’s Diane Sawyer stopped at North American College to meet briefly with one of ABC’s commentators, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, and to get a feel for the college. She overheard seminarians warming up for choir practice with “I got rhythm.” Archbishop Gregory assured her it was not an opening hymn for Mass.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Papal Transition: Details, details, details

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh 

Today, March 11, we’re working out logistics for coverage of the cardinal electors heading for the Conclave and planning modified photo ops for tomorrow morning. We hope to get all the U.S. cardinal electors for a “class photo,” but won’t know who’ll be in it until 7:15 a.m. tomorrow. We’re also arranging for a pool of still and TV cameras to cover the event. 

NBC News was filming at lunch today. This marks another media crew impressed by the overflow crowd of seminarians at the North American College. Ann Thompson was doing the story.

Grew in intercultural awareness today as I discovered that if you ask an Italian to speak for five minutes at a media conference he will speak for 10. If you ask a Brit to speak for 10, he will speak for five. Jesuit Father Norman Tanner was our briefer today and was quite interesting. Father Tanner, a professor of church history at the Gregorian University, said that media played the most important role in redefining the modern papacy. He gave the example of Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), the first pope to be photographed, as the beginning of a cult of personality around the office of the papacy. 

Other examples would be his successor, Leo XIII (1878-1903), first pope to be filmed, Pius XI (1922-1939), founder of Vatican Radio, and John XXIII (1958-1963), who became a world figure with his joyful personality and the media attention surrounding the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Father Tanner said the pope who elevated the papacy to an unprecedented level of media stardom was, of course, John Paul II. I would add that even Benedict XVI continued this development as the first tweeting pope.

On the cookie watch: an ABC producer based in London stopped by to build up our supply of Walkers Shortbread. 

Greta Kreuz of the ABC affiliate in Washington, WJLA, just got in and like every other newcomer is struggling with her cell phone. I think it took me until yesterday to learn how to answer mine. 

There is a huge demand for Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, who is over 80 and thus not an elector. Media are fans of the energetic Cardinal McCarrick. He’s staying until the installation of the new pope, because older cardinals are part of festivities after the election. Cardinal Adam Maida, retired archbishop of Detroit, also over 80, recently arrived here and is also staying at the North American College.
Contributing to this post was Don Clemmer.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cardinals on the conclave

Here's an insiders' view of what happens when the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel to select the next pope, courtesy of Catholic News Service.

Titular church day

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sunday, March 10: Titular Church Day and media were out in force.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley offered Mass at 10:30 a.m. at Santa Maria della Vittoria, a lovely small church that boasts a Bernini masterpiece and was made popular by Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Media jammed both side aisles and the pastor delighted the congregation when he said he hoped the next time Cardinal O’Malley came by he would not be cardinal. Boston reporters were there, as well as blogger and commentator John Thavis, NY Times’ Rachel Donadio, and Catholic News Service’s Carol Glatz. German TV interviewed me, though there was nothing to say since we don’t opine on the media’s topic de jour: Will there be an American pope?
On the way to Santa Maria della Vittoria I passed the titular church of Cardinal Scherer from Brazil, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, where TV cameras were lined up outside. Footage from there has been on CNN.

I went to Mass at Santa Susanna, my parish when I lived in Rome some years ago. Cardinal Bernard Law, now over 80 and not a voter, was the celebrant at the parish that is served by the Paulist Fathers. It’s the church for the American community in Rome. The 10:30 a.m. liturgy ended with my favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision. In Italian-American fashion we had cornetti and coffee afterwards. Before Mass, I saw only one group in front of the church. They looked like protesters. After Mass R.D. Saul, anchorman for Boston’s New England Cable Television, sought to interview Cardinal Law, but the cardinal declined. Saul had come over from Santa Maria della Vittoria, which is across the street.

I got back to the office around noon and found a message that authorization for a visit to the Sistine Chapel for the press officers from the United States had come through. Vatican officials were apologetic that we hadn’t had time to sign up for the tour they gave 400 media the previous day. Fortified by cookies from ABC, Don Clemmer and I headed over to the press office as the others raced in from various locations. Mar Munoz of USCCB, Joe Zwilling from New York, Angela Flood from Washington, Colleen Dolan from Chicago, Terry Donilon from Boston and Tod Tamberg from Los Angeles all got there just in time for a tour led by Doctor Angelo Scelzo, vice-director of the Vatican Press Office. It was amazing.

Workmen were still painting the windows so no one will be able to see in but the part of the chapel for the electors seemed all set. We couldn’t enter that section of the chapel but could see a name card was at each place and saw the seats reserved for Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal James Harvey, the Milwaukee native who now is archpriest at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. Tan tablecloths and red skirting covered the long tables. At each place was a red leather folder, prayer book, the Ordo Rituum Conclavis (prayers for conclave ritual), and a blue, ballpoint click pen. All of this beneath and before the majestic paintings by Michelangelo. We studied the much described stoves for burning the ballots with their tall copper smokestack amidst gold painted scaffolding. We resisted the temptation to push the button marked “Start.”

Dozens of Swiss Guards in mufti (black suits) milled about as their colleagues in colorful uniforms stood guard. We hoped to get into the Pauline Chapel, where the Conclave rituals begin Tuesday afternoon, but a Swiss Guard sentry wordlessly made it clear that was not to be. All of us were in great form after this treat. We had our pictures taken with an agreeable Swiss Guard and then posed for a group photo with our generous guide, Dr. Scelzo. It was a perfect Rome Sunday, and when it began to rain, six of us ducked into a restaurant on Borgo Pio for pasta.

Challenges tomorrow: media conference, arranging for a class picture of our cardinal electors as they move to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and helping arriving media find stories.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Papal Transition: Saturday smokestacks

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Saturday morning was interesting. The Vatican erected the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel at 11 a.m. At the same time we had a briefing at the North American College about the rituals of the Conclave. We presented Msgr. Kevin Irwin, of The Catholic University of America, and Archbishop Piero Marini, who was the master of pontifical ceremonies for Pope John Paul II. About 40 people showed up, ten of them photographers. Archbishop Marini spoke in Italian and Father Tom Rosica, a friend of the archbishop’s and president of Salt and Light TV, translated. Msgr. Irwin, a native New Yorker, explained the Conclave was really prayer and not a matter of hanging chads. Msgr. Irwin captivated the CBS people, who booked him for next week.

Many of the cardinals will celebrate Mass in their titular churches tomorrow. Media are spreading resources trying to cover as many liturgies as possible. I will probably go to the American church in Rome, Santa Susanna, where WUSA will be filming. Mar Munoz will go with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to Santi Nereo ed Achilleo and Don Clemmer will accompany Cardinal Daniel DiNardo to Sant’Eusebio. A few people stopped by the office, including a producer from ABC News/Good Morning America who delivered wonderful cookies from France. A priest from Louisiana whom we hope to place on a TV network stopped by this morning.

Father Lombardi, Vatican press secretary, said that the cardinals could send a spiritual message to their people at home, even via television tomorrow, which will give something to TV cameras as they try to capture the titular church experience. At the daily briefing he also gave out the cardinals’ schedule for the Conclave. On day one, March 12, they leave their residence, the Domus Santae Marthae (St. Martha’s House,) for the Apostolic Palace at 3:45 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. they process from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel. At 4:45 p.m. they take the individual oath of office and possibly hold the first ballot. At 5:15 p.m. they celebrate vespers, leaving at 7:30 p.m. for the Domus where they have supper at eight p.m.

The following days begin with breakfast, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.; 8:15 a.m. Mass in the Pauline Chapel; 9:30 a.m. mid-morning prayer from the Divine Office in the Sistine Chapel and voting. At 12:30 p.m. they return to the Domus for one p.m. lunch. At 4 p.m. they return to the Apostolic Palace for voting in the Sistine Chapel at 4:50 p.m. At 6:15 p.m. they pray Vespers in the Sistine Chapel, then depart at 7:30 p.m. to have dinner at 8 p.m.

Media are still arriving, seeking stories and commentators. Leno Rulli, the comedian on the Catholic Channel of Sirius Radio, is setting up to do three or more hours of programming daily during the white smoke watch.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Papal Transition: We Have A Conclave Start Date

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

The conclave opens Tuesday, March 12, with the Conclave Mass Tuesday morning.  The General Congregation voted on this during their afternoon session today.

Snow in the U.S. has delayed some media. WUSA, Channel  9 in Washington, was delayed by snow and expects to arrive tomorrow.  Media are searching for photo ops, even asking if any cardinal will offer Mass at his titular church on Sunday. All cardinals have a titular church. That makes them clergy of the Diocese of Rome, which entitles them to vote for the pope, who is the Bishop of Rome.

We’ve scheduled a briefing tomorrow at 11 a.m., Rome time, with Archbishop Piero Marini and Msgr. Kevin Irwin.  The briefing will focus on liturgical rites related to the conclave. Msgr. Marini, who was  head of papal liturgical ceremonies during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, knows this area thoroughly and literally wrote the book on it. Msgr. Irwin, of the faculty of The Catholic University of America, is a professor of liturgical studies.  Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who will offer commentary for ABC-TV during the Conclave, stopped by the office this morning. We invited him to come to the briefing, if only to be in the audience. He also is a liturgy expert. Depending on the schedule of the conclave, we hope to pursue other briefings.

Vatican Radio, Voice of America and WPIX-TV  from  New York City, stopped  by. Vatican Radio interviewed me, and VOA interviewed Mar in Spanish and Don in English. WPIX declared our office a “command center,” filmed us as we worked and interviewed me while waiting for Joe Zwilling, communications director from New York,  to meet them.

Heading to lunch this afternoon we saw a TV crew set up in the hallway. Since we try not to disrupt college life I panicked a bit, but then found out the CBS crew was working with the college on a story about seminarians and was being helped  by Msgr. Jeff Burrill, of the seminary faculty, and a couple of seminarians. They filmed outside the dining room and then inside as seminarians downed pasta and fish.

Reports on security measures are beginning to dominate the news.   Jamming devices will be installed in the Sistine Chapel to prevent electronic eavesdropping. Staff who serve meals at the Casa Santa Marta, where the cardinals will stay during the Conclave, will be sworn to secrecy. Even who said “pass the salt” is a secret. In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal.

The Italian newspapers have several stories that predict winners in the papal contest.  Given  the Vatican adage that he who goes into the Conclave a pope comes out a cardinal, one wonders if the saying  offers a measure of relief to some oft- mentioned candidates.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is media relations director for the USCCB.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Papal Transition: All The Cardinals Are In Place

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

The leaks at the Vatican continue. The morning La Repubblica newspaper ran a story claiming revelations from the secret Vatican Report on Vatileaks. Meanwhile, a few Italian journalists apparently have the minutes of the General Congregation. The topic came up at today’s briefing. Stopping the leaks will be one challenge in a media culture which lives on leaks. It’s just the way to do business here in Rome and has been for years. One journalist asked how they could be sure a cardinal will not leak the papal election result before the new pope comes out on the balcony after the famous phrase: Habemus Papam (We have a pope). Finally, Father Lombardi declared, “If you know who leaked, tell us.” He added that if someone is  wrongly disclosing information it is on their consciences.

The cardinal from Vietnam has finally arrived (He was met by Vietnamese staff of Vatican radio, which reaches all around the world), so cardinals can now make the decision about when to start the conclave. Rumors among Italian journalists, which were denied by the Holy See Press office, were that the opening Mass would be Monday. The press office also showed a video of conclave preparations, which included laying a floor in the Sistine Chapel, darkening windows and moving in a stove to burn ballots. We also saw men turning over the sod where a floral papal coat of arms had been planted in front of the Casa Santa Marta. Out goes the pope; out go his flowers. Wonder if new ones will be planted while waiting for the next pope. 

The media were filling all spaces at the regular press office (the overflow press facility is in the Vatican audience hall). Cindy Wooden and Frank Rocca were in the Catholic News Service booth and Nicole Winfield and Daniela Simpson were working at the other end of the room in the AP booth. Jason Berry was among journalists standing about. Father Tom Reese, now of National Catholic Reporter, was heading back to the Jesuit curia residence, where he stays, because he needed a land line for a radio interview.

We’re trying to organize briefings of experts and have lined up two liturgical stars. We’re working out details now. Our hope is to give media information to help them explain what is going on using correct liturgical terms and to explicate the symbolism which surrounds the event.
ABC’s planner stopped by our office at North American College. She is looking for what she descried as a “spotter,” someone who will recognize cardinals on sight. She has sheaves of paper on anyone who remotely might be considered “papabile,” a likely candidate for pope. At this point she seemed to have info on 20 percent of the conclave voters. Thierry Bonaventura, media officer for the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, also stopped by our office. He’s working out of the press office so was coveting our three printers, two televisions and stock of water, soda, peanut butter and crackers – and a second box of my favorite cookies, Walkers Shortbread, another food gift  from ABC. 

Angela Flood, who is staying at the apartment of Sister Rebecca Abel, NAC librarian, hosted communication directors in Sister Rebecca’s living room at six tonight. It was the best of Italian cheeses, olives, and salami. Joe Zwilling of New York, Mar Munoz and Don Clemmer of USCCB, Tod Tamberg of Los Angeles,  Colleen Dolan of Chicago and I enjoyed the six o’clock break before getting back to computers or meeting cardinals returning from their evening meeting.


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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Papal Transition: No More Cardinal Interviews

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

An exciting day started with La Stampa, an Italian daily, running a story that violated the confidentiality of the General Congregation. It named names and reported who said what. I heard cardinals were upset,  and one even stopped the bus to the Synod Hall at a newsstand to buy a copy of La Stampa. We steeled ourselves for the inevitable: a shut down of interviews. It happened in 2005 too.
We learned there were no interviews an hour before our daily briefing was to begin so sent out a quick e-mail saying we were cancelling because the General Congregation said no more interviews. A flurry of emails came back, and phone calls. Meanwhile, at the Vatican Press Office briefing, repeated questions from media promoted Father Thomas Rosica to take out his mobile phone and read my message.
Theories developed. A clash of cultures between U.S. and Italian media? Could be. We didn’t like the crowd of people hanging around after our briefing yesterday? Not true. A cardinal bumping into a reporter doesn’t lead to a cancelled briefing. By morning there will be other theories. Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, our USCCB staffer who has been on CNN and is now storm-bound in Washington, emailed to ask if this was a snow cancellation.
We got out statements fast and gave an interview to Rachel Zoll of AP to get the story straight before oddball ideas begin to circulate. I compared the shut down to the old Catholic school style of one kid talks and everyone stays after school. I hope my nun pals don’t want my head for that image, but several people already are enjoying it.
Our briefings were popular because we were the only ones other than the Vatican doing them and the vast number of American media work in English and Spanish. We also brought our cardinals who proved to be both insightful and funny. We’ll continue briefings, but without cardinals, to help U.S. media especially cover this exciting moment in the church.
The most unusual tweet perhaps was the one from Andrea Tornielli, author of the La Stampa article in question. Used to having an inside edge, he tweeted about the U.S. media events, “ Silenziati I cardinali americani: basta briefing alternativi.” (Silence the American cardinals: enough of the alternative briefing.)
On more significant news, we’re all happy the cardinal from Vietnam is to arrive tomorrow. With all the voters here, we might get a date for the start of the conclave.  Media at home are trying to figure out when to return to Rome.
Kim Lawton of the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly arrived for the press conference that was not to be, so I gave her an interview because she has to file tonight for her weekend show.  Just arriving, she had zilch to go with and the pouring rain didn’t lead to man in the square musings.
Cardinals had a Holy Hour tonight at St. Peter’s and you can feel a seriousness moving in. Yesterday at the briefing they talked about this being their most important action of their lives. It is an awesome responsibility.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is media relations director for the USCCB.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Papal Transition: When Will The Conclave Begin?

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Work started early on March 5 when, as I was returning from breakfast at 7:30 a.m., I met ABC staff looking around North American College for a place to interview Cardinal Dolan. They settled on a small courtyard outside the chapel. 

Cardinals also left early to the General Congregation, without media to see them board a bus. Phones are busy and e-mail is impossible to keep up with. RAI (Italian state television) interviewed me this morning about the openness to media by the U.S. cardinals, who are willing to meet with press. I explained, with 70 million Catholics in the United States, it is an efficient way of communicating. We also discussed the successful handling of the sexual abuse crisis by the church in the United States.

Media have one primary question now: When does the Conclave begin? Rules say all electors have to be on hand to make the decision and two still have not shown up. 
Vatican Press Office today ran a video of the three new urns, in silver and gilded bronze, designed by sculptor Cecco Bonanotte to collect the votes during the Conclave. Atop the urn that will hold the just counted ballots is a figure of the Good Shepherd. The Vatican does symbolism well. 

At 1 p.m. Rome time today, the Sistine Chapel is closed to the public in order to prepare for the Conclave. 

Attendance at our press briefings is growing. Today we had 20 TV cameras and 100 other journalists. Questions were in English and Spanish. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston is fluent in Spanish. Our other presenter was Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. There was some jesting in the questions, such as, would Cardinal O'Malley, a member of the Capuchin order, wear his Franciscan habit into the conclave? He's worn if for 40 years, he replied, and expected to do so until the day he dies. A Houston ABC reporter asked Cardinal DiNardo if he would still wear his cowboy hat if elected pope.  Attendees at our briefing included Greg Burke, who coordinates media coverage at the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Father Tom Rosica, head of Salt and Light Television, who is assisting the Vatican press office during the Interregnum. Tomorrow's briefing is slated to have Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

We said trucks could come in at 1 p.m. for setup and they arrived early. We let them in because we were afraid of creating a traffic jam if we asked them to remain on the street outside the college. Don Clemmer was coordinating truck parking so he had a cold lunch of strozzapreti, sometimes translated as 'priest strangler.' 

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, may get the prize for most accommodating. Mar Munoz Visoso of our staff is accompanying him to a 9 p.m. appointment at CNN tonight. As another cardinal fluent in Spanish, he is popular with the Hispanic media.
No afternoon meeting of the General Congregation today but no doubt lots of supper meetings around town. 

Work at home in Washington continues too, and yesterday we skyped into a staff meeting. Even better, if there is a snow day tomorrow in Washington, we can all Skype in from home. The blessings of technology.


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