Editor’s note: During the next few weeks as we watch an historic episode in our Church’s history unfold, I’m thrilled to be able share writing from our friends at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Today, we have another firsthand account from Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the media relations director for the USCCB. Enjoy! LMH
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.
Copyright 2013 Sister Mary Ann Walsh