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.

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