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.