Hacks in Black: On the Papal Plane with Pope Francis

A cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis being held up by the Statue of Liberty in Times Square, New York. September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis being held up by the Statue of Liberty in Times Square, New York. September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Dear Blog Readers –

After nine thrilling days of dragging my computer bag and camera tripod all over Cuba and the United States chasing after Pope Francis, I am back in Rome and ready to do my behind-the-scenes post on traveling on the Papal Plane.

There were a total of 79 journalists traveling on the Papal Plane from many countries – the US, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Britain, Russia, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, and Poland, and the group included print reporters, photographers, TV camerapersons, producers, and correspondents. At each location we split up, with most of the print reporters heading to the various media centers to work on tables where the wifi was guaranteed and they could watch the events on big screens. The photographers and TV types were taken to the events to participate in the tight pools. Those of us in the tight pools are required to wear black so as not to stand out when we are close to the Pope. The instructions in our “work program” provided by the Vatican say “dark suit and tie for men, dark dress for women, thus my title “hacks in black.”

TV Cameras in position on Papal Plane. September 19, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

TV Cameras in position on Papal Plane. September 19, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

My cameraman, video-journalist Paolo Santalucia (more on him below) and I were serving as agency television pool for Associated Press and Reuters and so we had to cover every single event where the press was given access, a total of 23 papal events including masses, speeches, prayers, and meetings.

As with any group confined to a bubble, stuck in the same airplane, buses, hotels, media centers and press events, we developed a “Boys on the Bus” pack journalism mentality, becoming giddy with exhaustion, joking endlessly about frivolous matters, battling for the quickest, goofiest tweet, obsessed with food and finding toilets.

While we were degenerating into teenage behavior on the bus, the Pope was soaring. One Vatican official told me ahead of time “it is going to be a love-fest” – and it was. Americans loved the Pope. They thronged to his masses; they lined the roads to catch a glimpse of him in his Popemobile; and they stretched out their hands to touch him, while attempting a selfie with the other arm.

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Festival for the Family in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television.

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Festival for the Family in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television.

In the US, the Pope made crucial stops in the halls of power delivering weighty speeches at the White House, Congress and the United Nations, but also made time for the homeless, school children, immigrants and jail detainees.

He expressed strong opinions on many issues: the environment, immigration, poverty, abortion, the death penalty, nuclear weapons, and religious liberty, zigzagging from what is considered left to right in the US political spectrum without falling into the trap of entering into American culture wars. He stayed above it all, earning the respect of many.

I must add though there have been two spoilers for the Pope since he departed the US that probably could have been avoided. First the announcement that he met with Kim Davis (the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to give marriage licenses to homosexuals, or her allow her assistants to, and was briefly jailed for it) while he was in the US and urged her to “stay strong.” This meeting and reported comment, for days not confirmed or denied by the Vatican, is clearly lowering the Pope into internal US debates where he did not want to go. The second was a comment on the plane harshly denying that he had invited the Mayor of Rome to the World Meeting of Families (the Mayor of Rome has been a big proponent of gay marriage). That comment dominated the Italian TV and newspapers on the day after the Pope’s return. The Pope would do well to stay above the political fray in Italy as well.

As I am writing this post, I feel like a whirling dervish trying to keep up on all the spin on the Pope-Kim Davis story.  Today the Vatican distanced itself from her, only to be contradicted by her lawyer.  Then this evening the Vatican made a statement that the Pope has met with an Argentine Chef who is openly gay.  What a confusing mess!

Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard the Papal Plane enroute Washington. September 22, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia.

Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard the Papal Plane enroute Washington. September 22, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia.

On the way to Cuba, the Pope came back and briefly greeted all the journalists and then came around and shook our hands one by one. He told us that we should all try to build small bridges of peace which eventually could help construct a larger bridge of peace in the world. Bridges and walls became a theme of the trip. On the way back from the US to Rome, a journalist asked him about barriers and walls being constructed in Europe to keep out migrants and the Pope responded that walls and barriers only increase hatred and eventually fall down, that they are not a solution. When he came back to Rome he said that he saw his flight from Cuba to the United States as a symbolic bridge – a bridge of dialogue, rapprochement and peace.

On his flights the Pope goes around and says hello to each journalist. We are asked to stay in our seats and simply greet the Pope, not give him a long sob story about our sick grandmother or lost dog or bore him with tales of our childrens’ accomplishments. This time, that rule seemed to be thrown to the wind. Many journalists tried to engage the Pope in conversation. The charming Marie Antonieta Collins of Univision gave the Pope a gift of scrumptious Empanadas, which were later offered around to all of us. Andres Beltram Alvarez of Notimex made the Pope listen to his child singing some song on his cell phone. I don’t think the Pope could hear anything, but he was gracious about it. Others gave gifts and asked for interviews. When he got to me, I was a bit shy and stiff (my Waspy DNA kicking in, in contrast with my more voluble Latino and Mediterranean colleagues) until my cameraman Paolo reached out his hand and said “Auguri per il suo viaggio Santo Padre!!” (Goodluck with your trip Holy Father) and which point I chimed in my good luck wishes as well.

TECHNOLOGY AND TENDENCIES

From the moment I stepped on the Papal Plane, I knew this trip was going to be a whole new game in terms of technology. As Paolo and I set up our tripod and cable for the inflight press conference, across the aisle from me Alan Holdren of Catholic News Agency, and Eternal World Television News had a cell phone on a mini-tripod attached to the seat in front of him and was Periscoping. For those ignorant people like me out there who do not know what Periscoping is, let me explain what he was doing. Alan was sending out a live video report of himself sitting on the plane getting ready to go, talking about the trip and showing what was going on. This live feed was going out through his Periscope-Twitter account. Any of his followers could send him comments or questions that would pop up on the bottom of the screen and he would reply.

Meanwhile other colleagues were busy texting and tweeting, sending photos and messages as we waited for the Pope to arrive and the plane to takeoff.

One of the most important roles that the Agency Television Pool plays on the Papal Plane is covering the Pope’s inflight press conferences and making sure it is transmitted as soon as we land.

As we winged our way from Santiago de Cuba to Washington on September 23rd, Pope Francis spoke at length with us about the trip to Cuba. Among other things, he was asked if he was anti-Catholic. He response was amusing. He told the story of a woman who thought he was the anti-pope because he refuses to wear the traditional red papal shoes, then he said that he may have given the impression of being a bit of a lefty because of his views on the environment and on capitalism, but that all of his words and deeds fall within the social doctrine of the Church. He then said he would recite the creed for us journalists if we really wanted to hear it. (We did not).

I whipped together an edit of the press conference on the plane and then pulled out my special US Mifi (portable wifi device) that had been sent to me from the US ahead of time. Eight minutes out from Andrews Air Force base I turned the device on and miraculously it connected to T-Mobile. I began transmitting. There was an embargo until the Pope landed, but I wanted to get the material to our Master Control so they would broadcast it as soon as we hit ground. While I was transmitting, AP Rome Bureau Chief Nicole Winfield (more on her below), was sitting next to me frantically writing. As soon as I finished sending my edit, we sent her story and transcription notes. AP had the story before the wheels touched ground. Yeah team!!

What immediately struck me coming to the United States from Cuba is that everyone in the US had a cellphone or an Ipad and immediately lifted their electronic device into the air upon seeing the Pope. (No one had cell phones at the Masses in Cuba). Often covering events in the United States I felt like I was behind a forest of arms, each one with a cell phone leaf at the end. When he arrived at a school in Harlem, a line of kids was waiting behind a barrier outside the school. As the Pope went down the line greeting them, every single kid held out a cellphone and either took a photo or attempted to do a selfie with him. It seemed as though people were communicating with the Pope through their electronic devices rather than speaking to him directly.

People raising their cell phones to take a photo of Pope Francis at St. Patrick's Church in Washington. September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

People raising their cell phones to take a photo of Pope Francis at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington. September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Speaking of new forms of communication, throughout the trip I was madly tweeting. I constantly tweeted photos of the Pope, the faithful, colleagues covering the Pope, tidbits from the Papal speeches. I have never had such success with tweets.  I casually tweeted a photo of Catholic News Service photographer Paul Haring taking a photo of the crowd as we were waiting for the Mass to start in Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, and I got over 4,000 views.  Here it is:

Catholic News Service Photographer Paul Haring takes a photo of the crowd waiting for Mass with Pope Francis in Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba. September20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Catholic News Service Photographer Paul Haring takes a photo of the crowd waiting for Mass with Pope Francis in Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba. September20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

I was getting thousands of views of tweets with photos of my colleagues and one tweet showing the Pope arriving at a Mass got over 100,000 views!! I even got a little silly sometimes. I tweeted a photo of Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Haiti in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia declaring he was voted the best-looking Cardinal by the women in the Vatican Press Corps.  I received some replies from infuriated followers telling me I was being sexist and didn’t I have anything better to do.  I promise my critics that when there are women Cardinals, I will give them the same sexist treatment.

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois at Independence Hall in Philadelphia waiting for Pope Francis. September 26, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois at Independence Hall in Philadelphia waiting for Pope Francis. September 26, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

“THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE”

As soon as the Papal plane lands anywhere in the world, the back door is opened and the Pope’s security details rushes out. Right behind them are the photographers and camerapersons who have to cover the Pope getting off the plane. Pope Francis has sciatica and a bad knee and of course wears ankle length vestments so stairs can sometimes be difficult for him.

Pope Francis gets off plane at Andrews Air Force Base. Freeze Frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 22, 2015

Pope Francis gets off plane at Andrews Air Force Base. Freeze Frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 22, 2015

On this trip, while I was putting away my computer, AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia was already out the door, down the steps and in place to film the Obama family walking out the red carpet to meet the Pope at the base of the stairs. He told me later he was impressed by the cool elegance of President Obama, the way he walked, gestured and spoke with such grace and self-assurance.   As we edited the video there was so much noise from the crowd cheering we could not hear the conversations, so we tried to read their lips. We saw Obama saying “This is my wife, Michelle” and Michelle saying “It is a pleasure to have you here.”

Obama family heads down red carpet to meet Pope Francis as gets off plane. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 22, 2015

Obama family heads down red carpet to meet Pope Francis as gets off plane. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 22, 2015

We saw Sasha walking confidently next to her father while Malia held back with the First Lady and seemed very shy, keeping one hand self-consciously on her stomach, but when she had to greet the Pope, it looked as though she spoke to him in Spanish.

Shortly after the arrival, we were all blown away when we saw the Pope step into a little Fiat 500L and drive away dwarfed amidst the giant SUV security vehicles escorting him. It was true Francis style – no armored vehicles for him. The gesture probably earned someone in the marketing department at FIAT a big promotion too.

Pope Francis leaves Andrews Air Force Base after arriving in the US in a Fiat 500 L. Photo by Trisha Thomas, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis leaves Andrews Air Force Base after arriving in the US in a Fiat 500 L. Photo by Trisha Thomas, September 22, 2015

I will skip ahead here to arguably the most important speech of the Pope’s trip, the one to the Joint Session on Congress. He made history becoming the first Pope to address Congress. Unfortunately, only some print reporters and photographers from the Vatican group were inside. I was kept outside with the other TVs because live coverage was provided. So I watched the event on a large screen on the Capitol steps (where the new Presidents give their inauguration speeches). One advantage of being there was that I could record the reaction of the thousands of people gathered on the mall.   I think the biggest applause he got was when he opened his speech by saying: “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The crowd went wild.

Pope Francis addresses a Joint Session of Congress. Washington, September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Pope Francis addresses a Joint Session of Congress. Washington, September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

In his speech the Pope used four American figures to address four issues – Abraham Lincoln on liberty, Martin Luther King on dreaming for a future with equal rights for all, Dorothy Day on striving for justice and the cause of the oppressed, and peace and contemplation as shown by Thomas Merton.

A little aside, I was stunned afterwards when my father emailed me that he had met Dorothy Day several times and that she had been a friend of my grandfather who was active in social justice issues. (I will dedicate another blog post to my grandfather, his work, and the fascinating figure of Dorothy Day).

In his speech the Pope condemned fundamentalism in any religion but also warned about simplifying into categories of good and evil. He warned against violence to counter violence saying “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.”

Pope Francis delivers speech to Joint Session of Congress. September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Pope Francis delivers speech to Joint Session of Congress. Is Speaker John Boehner tearing up behind him? September 24, 2015. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

He spoke about eliminating global slavery, called for the abolition of the death penalty, and condemned exporters of weapons saying that they do it for money, “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” Then he added, “In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade.”

The Pope spoke about the environment, urging action. He got a big applause when he spoke about immigrants noting: “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

Interestingly, he accidentally skipped an important paragraph of his speech when he was to quote the Declaration of Independence and conclude with a bit of a scolding for members of Congress saying: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.”

Later the Vatican spokesman told us it was purely an error and we could consider that paragraph as part of the delivered speech.

Although I did not see it personally, I learned later Speaker of the House John Boehner was sniffling and teary-eyed through much of the visit earning him the title “Weeper of the House.” Poor guy, I feel sorry for him.

Pope Francis looks a bit like a flying saucer as he speaks in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and a gust of wind blows his vestments about. He is using the lectern used by Abraham Lincoln for the Gettysburg Address. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television, September 26, 2015

Pope Francis looks a bit like a flying saucer as he speaks in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and a gust of wind blows his vestments about. He is using the lectern used by Abraham Lincoln for the Gettysburg Address. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television, September 26, 2015

Another important speech was the one he delivered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to tens of thousands of migrants stretched out on Independence Mall. He stood at the lectern used by Abraham Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address.

During this speech he made a special greeting to the Hispanic population of the United States saying, “I greet you all with particular affection! Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation.”

Shortly before the Pope arrived, a young woman who was helping with the organization asked me if I could come with her to speak to a woman attending the event who wanted to talk to someone in the Vatican press corps. I followed her to the edge of the crowd where I saw a thin, elderly woman clinging to a manila envelope. She had two pairs of glasses on, one on top of the other and looked at me with large magnified eyes. She did not speak English, but addressed me in Spanish and asked me if I would please give her envelope to the Pope. On the envelope there was written “Por Papa Francisco.” I promised her I would and she gave me a huge hug. I know she will not be reading this blog post, but for the record the envelope was delivered through the figure of Matteo Bruni of the Vatican Press Office (more on him below).

As usual we were taken out of the Independence Hall event early, so that we could get back on our bus and start heading to the Festival of the Family event. While the Pope was still speaking, we gathered up our cameras, cables, tripods, camera lenses and computers and headed for the bus. Unfortunately, we bumped into a rigid Philadelphia cop who blocked our path and would not let us go anywhere. There ensued a furious argument between Matteo and various security officials and we were worried that he might get arrested. Finally, they let us through and we rushed back around Independence Hall to get to our bus. But we were stopped short. Suddenly Matteo turned around and said, “all of you in a line, against the wall.” We stopped, dropped our stuff and stood there. Suddenly a row of police on motorcycles revved their engines and pulled out, and then around the corner came the Pope in his little Fiat. When he saw his “hacks in black” lined up like a bunch of school children against the wall, he waved enthusiastically, and between photos and filming video, we waved back and yelled “Ciao!” (Which is actually not a word for addressing a Pope, but we used it anyway.)

Pope Francis waves to the "Hacks in Black" as he leaves Independence Hall in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television.

Pope Francis waves to the “Hacks in Black” as he leaves Independence Hall in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by video-journalist Paolo Santalucia for AP Television.

OVAL OFFICE ANGST

A highlight of the trip for all of us was the visit to the White House.  But for me it was filled with some angst because I had to take on a double roll as camerawoman.

Trisha Thomas aka Mozzarella Mamma checking the setting on the little camera as the Vatican Press Corps prepares to enter the White House. Photo by Paolo Santalucia, September 23, 2015

Trisha Thomas aka Mozzarella Mamma checking the setting on the little camera as the Vatican Press Corps prepares to enter the White House. Photo by Paolo Santalucia, September 23, 2015

There were two events at the White House, the ceremony on the South Lawn, which included speeches by both Pope Francis and President Obama and then the photo opportunity in the Oval Office. The Vatican gave us the option of covering one or the other. We opted to cover the ceremony on the South Lawn, but then Paolo suggested that we separate and I use a small camera to film the Oval Office event, while he continued on to the meeting with the American Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington.

I am not a camerawoman and have only occasionally, in 20 years working for AP Television, picked up a small camera to shoot something. So, I was pretty nervous that I would blow the Oval Office shoot. In a photo-opportunity with two leaders in the Oval Office, a cameraperson had to be sure to get a wide shot to show where the leaders are, a medium shot with both of them in it, close-ups of each one, shots of camerapersons and photographers filming them to use in the edit. Photo opportunities usually last about five minutes and each shot has to be about 6 seconds, and a total of about 1 minute is necessary for an edit. Then there is the question of focus and white balance as well. On top of that, a photo opportunity has to be shot without a tripod, which often leads to shaky, wobbly video that does not look good.

Pope Francis and President Obama stand at attention as the US Army Fife and Drum Corps march past on the South Lawn of the White House. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 23, 2015

Pope Francis and President Obama stand at attention as the US Army Fife and Drum Corps march past on the South Lawn of the White House. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 23, 2015

The ceremony on the White House Lawn was a colorful event with the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marching up and down and playing “Yankee Doodle” just like they did for Benedict XVI back in 2008. The crowd was exhilarated and we had fun chatting with people and taking photos before the event began.

I got this photo of two Air Force women, which I just love.

Tatiana Toquica and Jillian Kozub of the US Air Force waiting for Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House. September 23, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Tatiana Toquica and Jillian Kozub of the US Air Force waiting for Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House. September 23, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The Pope finally arrived and delivered his speech in English that was a bit rough and rigid but the crowd did not seem to mind. “English is not my strong point,” he had told us on the plane. He said he came “as the son of an immigrant family” and told them he hoped to “listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.” He touched on some of his themes of the trip: climate change, poverty, and religious liberty.”

As soon as he was finished, I was taken off with the small group that was included in the Oval Office pool. But to my surprise we didn’t go straight to the Oval Office, they put us in a position in the Rose Garden and explained to us that we would film the President and the Pope walking under the portico past the Rose Garden and into the Oval office. Groan!! That meant I would have to first do a moving shot, a pan, in the bright sunlight and then rush into the Oval Office. “Ok, ok, you can do this, Trisha” I reassured myself.

Then a White House employee gave us a mini-lecture on the rules for the Oval Office: “When you go in – do not sit on the furniture, do not touch the furniture, do not take anything, do not leave anything or you will not see it again.”

It made me wonder: What do all the photographers do when they get in there? Take a selfie sitting on the President’s desk? Grab a pen off the desk to take home? Write “I was here” on the wall with their name? Try to take a nap on the Oval Office couch? Stick an Oval Office throw pillow under their shirt?

“What about my computer bag?” I asked the White House lady plaintively.

“That, you can leave by the columns outside and get it right after you come out or it will be mine,” she replied curtly.

It seemed like I was standing in that Rose Garden for an eternity with my little camera pointed at that door, arms and knees feeling a little weak. Finally it opened and the two men sauntered through, President Obama nonchalantly pointing out something in the Rose Garden, as though there were not a bunch of sweaty, stressed out photographers and camerapersons standing in the middle of it filming their every move. They rounded the corner, stepped into the Oval Office and the door was closed.

President Obama and Pope Francis walk past the Rose Garden at the make their way to the Oval Office. Freeze frame of video shot by Trisha Thomas for AP Television. September 23, 2015

President Obama and Pope Francis walk past the Rose Garden at the make their way to the Oval Office. Freeze frame of video shot by Trisha Thomas for AP Television. September 23, 2015

Then there was the stampede towards the door. Everyone wanted to be in first. I rushed up the steps to the portico, dumped my computer bag by a column and shoved my way up to the front of the pack.

Then the Oval Office doors were opened and like the “running of the bulls” in Spain we charged through the door busting past anything in our way. As one of the first, I instinctively adopted a strategy to get the best pictures. I dropped to my knees behind a sofa and rested my elbows on the back (yeah, I know, I forgot I wasn’t supposed to touch the furniture). Then using my elbows as a tripod I had a steady camera to film both the Pope and Obama who were only about a meter away from me. At one point they even both looked straight at me. The Pope was probably wondering what I was doing down there, and Obama gave me one of his huge smiles (or at least I like to think he was smiling at me).

Pope Francis and President Obama in the Oval Office. September 23, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by Trisha Thomas for AP Television.

Pope Francis and President Obama in the Oval Office. September 23, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by Trisha Thomas for AP Television.

It lasted only a few minutes and as I dragged my computer bag out of the White House grounds and back onto our bus, I nervously wondered whether I had gotten decent footage or not. Turns out it was nearly perfect.

Tony Gentile a photographer from Reuters who was the Agency Pool photographer on this trip caught me in the side of his photo just after I jumped up to get one last shot before being ushered out.

President Obama and Pope Francis in the Oval Office, and that is me with the little camera over on the right. Photo by Reuters photographer Tony Gentile for Mozzarella Mamma. September 23, 2015

President Obama and Pope Francis in the Oval Office, and that is me with the little camera over on the right. Photo by Reuters photographer Tony Gentile for Mozzarella Mamma. September 23, 2015

TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS AND TOILETS

When journalists travel on the Papal Plane, they have the opportunity to get copies of the Pope’s speeches for the day in the hotel room of the Assistant to the Vatican Press Office who handles the traveling press, the charming, gracious Matteo Bruni, secret heartthrob of many Vaticaniste. My cameraman colleague Paolo, perhaps envious of anyone stealing female attention from him, nicknamed Matteo “Mr. Fifty Shades of Gray” because his hair is a mix of blond and grey.

Thomas Chiu, cameraman for Fox News shows off his Trump tie to Paolo Santalucia of AP Television, Matteo Bruni of the Vatican Press Office and Trisha Thomas of AP Television outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Cuba. Photo by Paul Haring of Catholic News Service for Mozzarella Mamma. September 22, 2015

Thomas Chiu, cameraman for Fox News shows off his Trump tie to Paolo Santalucia of AP Television, Matteo Bruni of the Vatican Press Office and Trisha Thomas of AP Television outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Cuba. Photo by Paul Haring of Catholic News Service for Mozzarella Mamma. September 22, 2015

The copies are given out for 15 minutes at dawn, and then later distributed by email. For me, and many others, it is important to get the hard copies. The copies come in both the language it will be delivered and in various translations. I always need to get the original language and English. On this trip the Pope made 24 speeches of which only 4 were in English. I needed the original Spanish so I could follow along, see where the Pope went off the speech and ad-libbed, and note where crowds applauded. I also needed the English to carefully read through and look for soundbites we could use in our stories. This was even more important on this trip because at nearly every event in the United States we had access to a mult-box where we could attach an audio cable and get proper sound of the speeches (this was not the case in Cuba).

Let me tell you the distribution hours for the speeches during the trip: 5am, 4:15am, 4:45am, 6am, 5:30am, 5am, 4:15am, 7:30am.   Those of us who felt we needed the hard copies of the speeches became very neurotic, often waking up before our alarm clocks. Two people misread their clocks and got up in the middle of the night and started throwing on clothes to go get the speeches before they realized their error.

Once we got our speeches, we would have breakfast in the hotel restaurant before our fearless leader, the above-mentioned Matteo Bruni, made the roll-call (known as the Verifiche in Italian) for the pools. You cannot miss the Verifiche or you risk losing the pool altogether. What does one do at a breakfast at 5am when you’ve been averaging 4 hours of sleep a night? Drink mug after mug of coffee. However, this can lead to a lot of discomfort later during long masses or other Papal events with huge crowds. As Catholic News Service’s Vatican Bureau Chief Cindy Wooden warned me one morning as I re-filled my mug of coffee before the prison visit, “I would be careful with that coffee, I don’t know how many toilets will be available in the prison.”

Pope speaks to an inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. September 27, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Pope speaks to an inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. September 27, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Well, there was one, and obviously I was rushing for it, trying to get in and out before the detainees were brought in to meet the Pope.   The toilet problem haunted us throughout the trip and we often found ourselves desperately looking around Mass sites for the nearest Porta-Potty.   We noticed that in Philadelphia at the World Meetings of Families, the city was lined with porta-potties, some with unusual names. One group of porta-potties was blazoned with the name “The Royal Flush” – which begs the question – why would you name a latrine with no flush at all “the Royal Flush”?? Later we noticed a line-up of porta-potties each bearing the name “Celebrity”. How enticing, we all thought, makes you feel like a star as you rush to the loo.

TV Cameras in position on Papal Plane. September 19, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

TV Cameras in position on Papal Plane. September 19, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

There were a couple of occasions where the toilets were quite decent. Before the Pope spoke to the United Nations General Assembly we were ushered into our own booth in the translators section. Anyone remember the film “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman? We were given a booth like the one she used in the film. Nearby there were some very decent bathrooms and every roll of toilet paper had a message on it. It said: UN Water, 19 November, WORLD TOILET DAY. 1 in 3 people still don’t use a basic toilet. #WeCantwait to end this deadly crisis. Share your support for #goal16 and #worldtoiletday. Taking advantage of a captured audience like that is not a bad way to make a case. I had no idea that the lack of toilets in the world was a deadly crisis, and now I do, just because I drank a lot of coffee when I was in New York.

Pope walks into the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, September 25, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia.

Pope walks into the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, September 25, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia.

By the way, the mult-box in the interpreter booth turned out to be a nightmare. We were all packed into the little booth, camerapersons and photographers at the front and others at the back. We had plugged our cable into the box in the corner.

The Pope started speaking and Paolo whispered to me loudly, “hey, Trisha, you plugged into the English translation, we need the original natural sound in Spanish.” Together with Javier from Rome Reports I started crawling around on the floor near the Mult-box between the legs of the camerapersons and photographers. I shoved the cable into a different plug.

“That’s Arabic translation,” Paolo exclaimed. I tried another, “That’s Chinese!!” Paolo declared. I tried another, “That’s French!”

I started getting mad. “Stop, pulling my leg.” I hissed back, “it’s not funny, we are missing the speech!!!”

“I’m not kidding!!” Paolo shot back. Finally Javier Lopez Lopez of Televisa Mexico interrupted our back and forth. “I got it,” he said, “Hook your cable into my camera.”

So Paolo hooked our cable into Javier’s camera, and I pulled myself up off the floor so I could listen to the speech. Ah, the glamour of TV news.

Speaking of glamour, entering into the UN we had to go through the usual massive security checks.  I had just completed my check and was waiting for my colleauges when a woman security officer said to me, “Hey, do you like Shakira?” I was contemplating that for a second when she added, “Well, there she is, coming through the gate.”

I quickly snapped a bunch of photos which I tweeted right away and whammy — gazillions of re-tweets and new followers.  Here she is:

The singer Shakira enters the United Nations. She was expected to sing later in the day, after the Pope's Speech. New York, September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The singer Shakira enters the United Nations. She was expected to sing later in the day, after the Pope’s Speech. New York, September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

I must admit I loved every minute of the time we spent in New York.  There is so much to say that I cannot fit it all in.  I laughed as I watched Mayor Bill De Blasio,  Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer all lavishing attention on the Pope when he got off the Popemobile on 5th Avenue in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  There was a whole riser filled with cameras on the other side of the street and the pols were determined to get their photo-op.

I loved the gigantic poster of the Pope that we saw shortly after we stepped off the train at Penn Station.

Welcome to New York says this big yellow poster with the image of Pope Francis. Photo by Trisha Thomas, September 24, 2015

Welcome to New York says this big yellow poster with the image of Pope Francis. Photo by Trisha Thomas, September 24, 2015

One of the highlights of the New York visit was a packed Mass in Madison Square Garden.  We were all surprised to learn that Mo Rocca, a reporter for CBS Sunday Morning, and an openly gay man, was one of the readers at the Mass.  His brother Frank Rocca, the Vatican Correspondent for “The Wall Street Journal” was on the plane with us and he had never breathed a word about it.

GETTING GIDDY

On the second to last day of the trip were were collapsing with exhaustion and absolutely giddy. Matteo, and his assistant Salvatore, brought us to the World Meeting of Families evening celebration called the “Festival of Family.” The Pope was not to arrive until 730pm but we were there hours early.

The evening’s host was Mark Wahlberg. I had never heard of him before, but some friendly local TV journalists informed me that he used to be a Calvin Klein underwear model, so a quick Google search resolved my ignorance about him. The evening included dancers and musicians to warm up the crowd before the Pope got there.

Sister Sledge sing "We are Family" at the Festival of the Family in Philadelphia, September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

Sister Sledge sing “We are Family” at the Festival of the Family in Philadelphia, September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

All of a sudden the group “Sister Sledge” burst onto the stage and got the crowd rocking and rolling to “We Are Family”. Even the nuns were jiving along. At that point Rai cameraman Marco Sanga and I could not resist the temptation – we forgot about our work and bogeyed down.

Happy Nun jiving to "We are Family" by the Sister Sledge. Philadelphia, September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

Happy Nun jiving to “We are Family” by the Sister Sledge. Philadelphia, September 26, 2015. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

Trisha Thomas of AP Television and Marco Sanga of RAI kicking up their heels to "We are Family" at the Festival of the Family in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015 Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

Trisha Thomas of AP Television and Marco Sanga of RAI kicking up their heels to “We are Family” at the Festival of the Family in Philadelphia. September 26, 2015 Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia

We had settled down by the time the Pope arrived and watched him listen to the testimony of one family after another. Their stories were long and dramatic, the evening was chilly, and everyone was tired. Even the Pope looked a little bored. At one point the Pope asked an aide for something and looked like he was going through his prepared speech crossing half of it out. Then it was time for his speech. He stood up, figuratively tossed his speech to the wind, and delivered an off-the-cuff monologue on families. He earned a big laugh when he said, “In families we quarrel, sometimes plates fly, and children give us headaches, and I am not even going to talk about mothers-in-law.”

MR. PROTOCOL, THE SOPHISTICATED PHOTO-BOMBER, POPS INTO THE PICTURE

Vatican Chief of Protocol Alberto Gasbarri precedes Pope Francis into ceremony at Ground Zero. September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Vatican Chief of Protocol Alberto Gasbarri precedes Pope Francis into ceremony at Ground Zero. September 25, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Spending a lot of time with photographers on the Papal trip, I soon learned who drives them crazy, the Vatican’s debonair Chief of Protocol, Dr. Alberto Gasbarri. Gasbarri is tall, has a head of silver hair that he sweeps elegantly back across his head delicately covering some emerging empty patches. He is always impeccably dressed, the picture of elegance.

The Pope was constantly accompanied on this trip by several individuals that we all know—his chief of security, Domenico Giani and his team of Gendarmes and Swiss Guards in plain-clothes, Monsignor Mark Miles, his quiet translator, Father Federico Lombardi, the Papal spokesman, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, and a few others. But only one of them is nearly always in the photos, Dr. Gasbarri. The photographers explained to me that no matter where they are in the world from the Vatican to the Philippines, when they are about to snap that perfect picture, peek-a-boo, up pops Gasbarri’s silver head. I believe Americans refer to that as being a photo-bomber. As soon as they pointed this out to me, I realized a lot of my own photos, and our video had the same problem, an elegant photo-bomber.

THE KILLER AP TEAM FROM ROME

One of the greatest joys of this trip was working closely with my AP colleagues. First and foremost was my dashing, video-journalist colleague Paolo Santalucia. Paolo is an incredibly talented producer and cameraman with an unusual combination of editorial and technical abilities. He is also good-natured and his endless, playful joking helped keep me laughing throughout the trip.   His looks made him a magnet for the women journalists on the plane and I would often notice the Spanish and French journalists bending his ear during long waits. He ate up the attention. His looks were not lost on American women either. As our pool of reporters was taken through the US Capitol building and down the steps leading towards the Mall, an American woman waiting to see the Pope looked at Paolo and said, “Ah, are you Italian?” When he said, “yes”, she declared, “Oh, you Italian men are so sophisticated, you have such panache.” As we continued to move towards our television position, my foreign colleagues turned to me and asked, “What is panache?”  Well, here he is, Mr. Panache himself.

AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia aka Mr. Panache on Capitol waiting for Pope Francis to arrive. September 24, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia aka Mr. Panache on Capitol waiting for Pope Francis to arrive. September 24, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The Queen of the AP wire coverage of the Papal trip was our Super-woman Rome Bureau Chief Nicole Winfield. Nicole should be the poster-woman for the “Lean-in” movement. Like me, Nicole is a mother of three, and her kids are younger than mine. But while I went part time after the birth of my second child, Nicole has leaned-in becoming AP’s Vaticanista (Vatican Correspondent) as well as Rome Bureau Chief. I have often wondered how she does it and can say after this trip it is a combination of incredible talent, hard work, organization, determination and willpower. I would see Nicole at the dawn speech pick-up in sweats after which she would whip off to the hotel gyms for a workout before slogging it out through the day writing AP news stories and staying on top of every unexpected event. Whether it was the Pope meeting with Fidel Castro or with victims of sexual abuse, Nicole was all over it, getting it right and getting it first – as usual. On top of that, she is a generous team player, sharing her knowledge of events, her contacts and making sure AP Television and photos gets everything we need to make the story a multi-media success for AP. I enjoyed working with her on the plane, deciding what the priorities were in terms of the comments from the Pope and making sure we got them out fast.

AP Rome Bureau Chief Nicole Winfield with AP wire colleagues Eduardo Castillo (Center) and Mike Weissenstein at press center in Havana, Cuba. September 20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Rome Bureau Chief Nicole Winfield with AP wire colleagues Eduardo Castillo (Center) and Mike Weissenstein at press center in Havana, Cuba. September 20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

And last, but absolutely not least, another Super-mamma, AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino. Alessandra was not given a spot on the papal plane (there were apparently 60 people who applied who were not given a seat due to lack of space), so she got the tough job of having to try to cover all the Papal events without being in the Papal entourage. That meant flying ahead to Havana, and to Holguin, and then bouncing through the Cuban countryside in a crowded van to reach Santiago de Cuba.

AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino with Che Guevara at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, September 20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino with Che Guevara at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, September 20, 2015. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Alessandra was always one step ahead or behind us having all sorts of horror stories (leaving a 10,000 euro camera lens in a taxi in Santiago de Cuba – she later got it back), and eating food that sent her stomach for a ride. Despite getting sometimes only one hour of sleep, Alessandra kept on marching, never missed an event and always had a smile. Twice she shared my hotel room when she did not have time to get back to her own hotel and it was such a pleasure to have a roommate to gossip and laugh with. Some of Alessandra’s extra photos are in this post. During our train ride from Washington to New York she copied for me some of her best extra photos from Cuba which I will use the in the next post.

BLOWING UP BRIDGES – BICKERING OVER EMBARGOS

While the Pope was building bridges of peace, the Vatican press corps was sometimes less than peaceful. On this trip there were two inflight press conferences, one on the flight from Santiago de Cuba to Washington and one on the flight from Philadelphia back to Rome. That makes two opportunities for journalists to ask questions. As I mentioned in my  earlier post on the trip (Pope Francis: Heading for the US), the journalists are divided into language groups – English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, and each group chooses three questions and three journalists to ask them. The Pope takes one from each group and then begins the rotation again.

The English language group is particularly difficult with a lot of egos getting in the way. The rule is that people who have never asked a question before get priority and new journalists on the plane get to go first. In the English language group there is then a big battle over what the questions will be and then several journalists draft the questions.

The process seems to be dominated by heavyweight Vaticanisti John Allen of “Crux:, Frank Rocca of the “The Wall Street Journal,” Phil Pullela of Reuters and Gerry O’Connell of “America” Magazine. I started a campaign early on in the trip to rally the others to change the system. With the help of my female colleagues:  Elena Pinardi of Eurovision, Phoebe Natanson of ABC, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, Nicole Winfield from AP, and Courtney Walsh from FOX, we managed to convince the group that the questions cannot be dictated – we agreed on themes and each journalist got to ask the question as they wished. We pushed hard to get Siliva Poggioli of National Public Radio to ask a question on the Cuba-USA leg and Elizabeth Dias of Time Magazine to ask a question on the USA-Italy leg.

Speaking of Sylvia Poggioli, the Vatican had not originally wanted to give her a seat on the plane. The story goes that other Vatican correspondents, including Phil Pullela of Reuters went to the Papal Spokesman to help him understand how important she is. They said to him something along the lines of sending a Papal Plane to the US without Sylvia Poggioli is like sending the Ark without Noah. She got a place, and she got to ask a question.

Once the final press conference was finished, US Network pool producers Phoebe Natanson of ABC News, and Anna Matranga of CBS News stayed up all night transcribing every word. We were all grateful to them. But as the flight got closer to Rome, the embargo battle began. Many reporters like to keep an embargo on the Papal Plane inflight press conference for an hour or two after landing. That way they have more time to get home and get to work. The Italians seem to like the embargo the most while many of the English-speaking press don’t want it. The TV journalists do not want it because they want to go on air immediately to talk about it. I won’t go into the details here but there was some nasty bickering on the flight about it, a vote was taken, and it was decided to impose a two-hour embargo. Some journalists threatened to break the embargo, others cried foul. It was a bit of a mess, but par for the course. As far as I am aware, the two-hour embargo held, we were all too zonked to break it.

Coming Soon: Reflections and Photos from Pope Francis’ Visit to Cuba

 

28 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2015/10/03

    Oh my gosh Trish. There is so much to comment on here and I hardly know where to begin. Well, first I say brava to you for a job well done under pressure and a big grazie to you for sharing your experience. What a whirlwind and exciting trip for you. And you are so generous in pointing out colleagues who were helpful, funny, and extraordinarily competent. But that’s why you are in those positions you’re in – you are all so hardworking and professional under difficult circumstances. (By the way, I recognized Phil Pulella’s name from my days at Reuters in NY – he’s covered lots of popes!). Anyway, I just lapped up every word you wrote and will reread it again and share it on FB. Not having been in the U.S. at the time of the pope’s visit, I missed a lot of the coverage. So thanks so much for taking the time to give us an insider’s view. It was informative and funny too (toilets! shakira!) You’re strepitosa!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/03

      Thank you Linda!! Wow, no one has called me strepitosa before. I like that word!! Phil Pullela certainly has covered a lot of Popes. He is one of the more senior correspondents on the plane. He is a pleasure to be around but also ruthlessly competitive– he never misses anything. Of course, neither does Nicole, so the two news agencies are well taken care of. Phil also has a good understanding of TV and knows how to work together well with us which I appreciate.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Tina Farmer
    2015/10/03

    Hello Trisha,
    Following coverage of the Papal tour through mainstream channels was great – but catching the behind-the-scene glimpses you regularly posted and now reading this great insider piece is just fantastic. Thanks for sharing with such style, flair, wit and forthrightness.
    Hope you can now relax, catch-up and, who knows, a visit to a spa might be a nice treat too!
    Super job to you and your colleagues –
    Warm wishes,
    Tina

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/03

      Thank you Tina, you are so kind. Yes, I wish I could sit back and relax now, but the news never stops. We had the Kim Davis fracas this week, and today a Polish priest employed by the Vatican came out and immediately lost his Vatican job. We have the Synod on the Family starting Monday….it is crazy!

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Joan Schmelzle
    2015/10/03

    What a great read!!! Loved it. And I’m so very glad you enjoyed the trip and had a great time while doing a great job of reporting.
    Just a couple of personal comments on a couple of items you mentioned. I hope you don’t mind. I did not get to watch much of the long coverage; I think I run around too much. But one episode I did watch almost entirely was the visit to the prison. I found this very moving. I was worried when one prisoner stood up to embrace the Pope that security would rush in. But they didn’t thankfully so others also stood to embrace him.
    Yes the Kim Davis episode–very disheartening at first because her lawyer (and maybe she too) made it sound like a personal meeting arranged by the Pope. Later info has come out that it was a group meeting and the Pope didn’t know about her license stand. Seems to me a couple of people did a lot of embellishing. One source I read (can’t remember which) felt that she was invited by the Papal Nuncio in the U.S., who is supposedly not too keen on some of the Pope’s ideas.
    Of course, the information that the Pope met with the old friend and his partner also made the rounds, including the Papal embrace.
    Anyway thanks for this update. I have been looking forward to it and I did think of you every time I saw any coverage. I am sending this on to a cousin and a friend who will enjoy it I’m sure.
    A presto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/03

      Joan, I am so glad you read the whole thing. I was worried that it was too long and no one would get to the end, but I had so much to say. I was there at the prison visit — very close, and it was moving. The Pope clearly feels the most relaxed and comfortable in these situations — that is, with the children in Harlem, homeless in Washington, immigrants and prisoners in Philadelphia. I think his security guys were more relaxed in the prison because they knew that anyone who was in that room had been through massive security checks. The photo I took on the post shows a prisoner who looks a bit intimidating holding the Pope with two hands. I took a picture of that man before the Pope arrived and the inmate sitting next to me gave me the evil eye as if to warn me not to do it. I wondered if the man with the tattoos is some sort of leader. Anyway, the Pope clearly prefers hugs from tough prisoners than hanging out with smarmy politicians.
      On the Kim Davis story — it is a nightmare. Honestly, all this spinning is driving me crazy. Bottom line I think is what you said — the Papal Nunzio invited her and he has his own agenda which– if I have understood correctly — is not in perfect sync with the Pope. A lot of people are spinning in a lot of directions as this Synod starts up because everyone wants the Church to move their way.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Linda Bacigalupi
    2015/10/03

    Thank you. Trisha, for a fantastic and informative post…I haven’t read anything, so far, that comes close to this post! I just couldn’t read fast enough. AP should give you you and your team a substantial raise. And, now, I know the identity of the ever-present handsome man. I think it’s tough for the Pope to not remotely touch on political issues. Do you think the Pope’s separate meetings with Kim Davis and the Argentine chef were carefully orchestrated and intended to be leaked to the press? To me, it seems that the meetings presented a visual and thoughtful juxtaposition of how moral conscience and love of humanity (straight, gay, etc) are so highly valued by the Holy Father. I think some big changes are on the horizon in my Church. I enjoy your blog…loved the TP post — lots of laughs!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/04

      Thank you Linda. I do not think the Kim Davis and Argentine Chef meetings were carefully orchestrated to be leaked to the press. I think the Kim Davis meeting set off such a hullabaloo that they quickly had to advertise the Argentine Chef to counteract all the bad press the Pope was getting. If they were carefully orchestrated I don’t think they would have waited all week to tell us about the Argentine Chef. I also think the Pope did not realize the intensity and passion surrounding the debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the United States. He does now though. I think it will be a rocking and rolling month with the Synod on the Family in Rome and, like you, I think there will be some big changes in the Church if this Pope has his way. Glad you liked the TP post — sure was a lot easier to write.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Beth
    2015/10/03

    I’ve been wondering when this post would be up and finally, here it is!

    Thanks for sharing these stories. They are wonderful, and as always, more enlightening than any ol’ regular media coverage one gets.

    A few rambling thoughts and one question (if you don’t mind):

    1. About the two “spoilers” re. Kim Davis and Mayor of Rome, plus the endless spinning that’s been happening in their respective aftermath: as anyone who knows anything about Francis — personally or through his numerous writings and speeches — will tell you, there are probably few things Francis detests more than the shady politicization and manipulation of anything and everything.

    And if one understands that, it’s really not that hard to imagine what the Pope would have thought about the whole, you know, “situation” about Kim Davis or why he might have (supposedly) rebuked the Rome Mayor the way he did.

    I’ll tell you, the Pope lives in a nest of vipers. No wonder he needs and constantly asks for our prayers.

    2. About that priest who came out (and what a perfect timing he had, eh? also, didya hear, he has a book coming out, too! ), he wasn’t sacked because he came out and declared himself a proud and happy gay man, but because he broke the vow of celibacy, that promise he made to God when he was ordained.

    Again, as anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the priesthood in the Catholic Church would know, if he were a straight man and said he had a female lover on the side, he would have been sacked just the same.

    But of course the media reporting has taken the predictable route: “Vatican fires a priest for coming out as gay”. And here is my question for you, and I ask this in earnest: do you think they (i.e., the media covering the Church/Vatican, and mind you, this includes AP, and those who call themselves “Vaticanista”) are being intentionally sensational (if not misleading), so that people will click on their stories (as in, “hey, let’s use that as our headline and tweet it out; we can put the rest about how the priest is essentially a cheater in the eyes of the Church in the body”), or are they really that ignorant of such simple ins and outs of the Catholic Church?

    I just don’t get it, and am genuinely curious.

    3. On a lighter note: Did any of the papal entourage come back to use the loo in the back of the plane this time? :)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/04

      Beth, you are so smart and well-informed about what is going on in the Church and the doctrine itself, I think I should have you co-write my blog posts! Thank you for all your excellent comments. Let me respond to them as best I can. First and foremost, yes, the Pope lives and works in a nest of vipers. He is tough and I think he can handle it, but I think the trip was extremely demanding on him and at the very tail end things spun a bit out of his control with the Kim Davis and Marino business. On top of that he did not have a second to relax after the trip because he has the Synod. He also has the trip to Africa and the beginning of the Jubilee year. It is the Pope who has chosen to do all these things and I think he might be exaggerating. He frequently says he believes his papacy will be short and I fear he is rushing to get everything done in a few years. But to get things done properly it needs 100 percent of his attention. They Synod is extremely important and he cannot be distracted.
      1) The Kim Davis thing was totally out of control and I am sure the Pope is furious about it. Father Tom Rosica of Salt and Light TV (who also works as an English language spokesman for the Vatican during big events) spoke to us at length the other day and clearly put the blame on the Papal Nunzio in Washington Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano. Vigano’ was sent to Washington after being at the center of the Vatileaks crisis in the Vatican and is considered to be the whistle-blower on all the corruption of former Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. As one of the top Vatican diplomats, I cannot understand why he did not fully learn all the complicated subtleties of the Kim Davis story and realize what a mess it would make for the Pope. Another interesting figure in all of this is Robert Moynihan, Editor-in-Chief of “Inside the Vatican” and a conservative Vatican analyst that I have interviewed many times. He broke the story and really seemed to be pumping it all week until the Vatican press office put the cabosh on it.
      I think the Pope reacted too harshly on Mayor Marino on the plane because as you say he doesn’t like manipulation and being used. I still think he would have been wiser to say, I know nothing about why Marino was there and it is of no interest to me and let his spokesman Lombardi deal with the rest. His passionate rebuttal of Marino ended up dominating the Italian press for two days and took away from all the much more interesting comments the Pope made on the plane.
      2) On the priest who came out yesterday. I got an email about that on Friday and I was so glad that I am not working this weekend. I think all the Vaticanisti know perfectly well that any priest who had a relationship male or female would have gotten the same treatment and you are right that the reporting has been boiled down to a simple misleading headline. That said, the Vatican press office statement also blamed him for his timing as using it promote an agenda so did not place the blame on his having a companion. Here is the Vatican statement:
      “With regard to the declarations and interview given by Msgr. Krzystof Charamsa it should be observed that, notwithstanding the respect due to the events and personal situations, and reflections on the issue, the decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure. Msgr. Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical universities, while the other aspects of his situation shall remain the competence of his diocesan Ordinary.”
      So, the press has mislead, but the Vatican has not been crystal clear either.
      3) Finally, on your easier question. We were NOT seeing the Cardinals and Bishops at the back of the plane on this trip because apparently Francis is much more relaxed about sharing his toilet up at the front of the plane. Too bad for all of us because there is no chance to grab the Cardinals enroute to the loo to try to squeeze some info out of them. Oh well.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Beth
        2015/10/05

        You are too kind, Trisha, and I thank you for your thoughtful responses.

        A couple more thoughts on those below:

        1. “He frequently says he believes his papacy will be short…”

        Indeed he does. But, as it goes: you think and plan one thing; God just laughs.

        Likewise, unlike many who predict Francis will resign, like Benedict, when he gets older (and weaker), especially since he frequently alludes to it (though that’s really because people keep asking him about it), I feel rather confident in saying that he’ll live out his days in papacy.

        2. “I think the Pope reacted too harshly on Mayor Marino …”

        Interesting! I didn’t think his tone was unusually harsh, just that he really seemed to want to make that super duper clear. But then, I don’t really know that much about Marino, except that he somehow pissed off “Numero Uno” (lol), by crossing that line that never should’ve been crossed. Silly politicians, when will they ever learn. (Probably never.)

        Speaking of crossing lines, a wise Jesuit priest said this on the internet: “Drafting @Pontifex into culture wars won’t work. He keeps crossing battle lines to go hug the ‘enemy’.”

        Which I thought was just perfect.

        3. “… the press has mislead, but the Vatican has not been crystal clear either.”

        Yabut then, has there ever been a time when the Vatican has been crystal clear, like, about anything? :-)

        Admittedly, I often find it maddening how horrible the Vatican is at “crisis management,” always a step (or twenty!) behind the news cycle, getting mercilessly slammed left and right all the while. Pope Francis probably thinks or cares little of it though; he might even think it a good sign, since (a) the Church should be out in the world regardless, meeting people where they are, and getting entangled in unsavory scandals, getting battered, bruised and dirty is just par for the course, and also, because (b) the Church should never concern itself with putting on a good PR show anyway.

        Alrighty, now that that’s out of the way, here are some more thoughts on the tales you told in the original post:

        4. “…a thin, elderly woman clinging to a manila envelope.”

        This was by far my absolute favorite part of your post. It was superbly sweet and kind of you to do this for her. Here’s hoping and praying that her envelope will find its way onto the Pope’s lap safe and sound, and that the lady will come to know, if not through a direct reply from the Pope himself, then in some other providential way, that she has been heard.

        And finally:

        5. “The Italians seem to like the embargo the most while many of the English-speaking press don’t want it.”

        This is surprising. I’ve always thought it was the Italians who didn’t want the embargo, since the Pope often speaks in Italian, they don’t have to do the translation and therefore, their work takes less time and so why should they give others more time to get their stories done. Guess I thought wrong. [/The More You Know]

        No matter, it’s still fascinating that y’all who, hyperbolically speaking, live to compete, could come to an agreement about and keep the self-imposed embargo.

        Sorry this was way too long. But, a thoughtfully written and interestingly illustrated post, woven with wonderful photos to boot, deserves a ramblin… er, I mean, just as thoughtful response, so.

        I thank you again for your kind words and also, for indulging me.

        Looking forward to your tales from Cuba, and also stories about your grandfather and Dorothy Day.

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2015/10/05

          Hi Beth — Just a couple quick replies again to your interesting comments.
          1) On the length of this Papacy — you are right– Despite what he says, he does not seem like the resigning type. More like a “stick it out until the bitter end” type. But I do wonder how long his body can keep up with the immense demands he is putting on it. I have felt exhausted after this trip and have needed time to regroup. He has been extremely busy over there on the other side of the Tiber with this Synod. No rest for Pope Francis.
          2) Again, you are right, the Vatican has never been crystal clear. They have mastered the fine art of murkiness. But again, I agree, would rather not have the Vatican Press office be a slick PR machine.
          3) On the Manila envelope. I saw Matteo today in the Vatican press office after the daily briefing on the Synod (he had not read this post and was not yet aware of his Mr. 50 Shades of Gray nickname), but I forgot to ask him about the envelope. Will do next time I see him. I think the Vatican does try very hard to respond to letters for the Pope.
          4) On the Italians versus the English language press on the embargo. Yes, the Italians have it in the original language so it should be easier. But, and perhaps I am being unfair here, I think the Italians are less technologically savvy, and do not use the same quick methods we do to get out their stories. They are also not the biggest twitterers and periscopers. In addition — and this perhaps is mean to say– but if you have ever read an Italian newspaper, the style is much more complicated and convoluted. Italians are taught to write in a very elaborate way trying to show off their knowledge and brilliance. It must take them a lot longer to write up a story. That is my off-the-top-of-my-head explanation. I will ask around to see if others can shed some more light on that one.

          Reply
  6. Avatar
    Chris Montemayor
    2015/10/03

    Wow Trish! Sounds so fun and exciting. I love hearing about the “underbelly” perspective of such a historic event. You did an awesome job describing the magnitude of effort this was for the press and the people who organized it. I really wanted to hear the Pope’s speeches in his native Spanish but they were all dubbed over in English. There are so few people in this world that most people can respect and agree with. I am in awe of how he fosters love and peace but still has very strong opinions about certain church doctrine. He has been a breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church and I hope he hangs around for a good while. Such an interesting and fun piece to read!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/04

      Glad you liked it Chris. I can’t believe they dubbed over his speeches. They were perfect for someone like you who understands Spanish. I also always like to read the “underbelly” stories, so I tried to put in all the silly details I could. Sometimes when you see big events like this on TV or read about them in the papers they look so perfectly orchestrated and it is the messy part that we all really want to know about.

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Sue
    2015/10/03

    Trisha, great job. Kept thinking of you while you were here and it must have been exciting and exhausting at the same time. Hope your family was happy to see you upon your return.. Good job.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/04

      Thanks Sue. I think the happiest one to see me was my dog Set — because I am the one who always feeds him and takes him for longer walks. My family was relatively happy to see me. My daughters promptly started punishing me for my absence demanding that I do one million things for them. My husband left the day after I got back for a week of work in Belgium and the UK. So instead of some much needed rest I have spent my past week running around frantically like a chicken with my head cut off. It is a miracle that I managed to get the post done. Made the papal trip look like a walk in the park.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Cyndy
    2015/10/04

    What a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/04

      Thank you Cyndy — I wish I could have seen you when I was in Philly, but we were really trapped in our Pope bubble. I don’t know if you heard the speech that the Pope delivered at Independence Hall, but in case you missed it, I was proud of the Quaker line in our family when he said the following:
      “The Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love. This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American Spirit.” Yeah Quakers!!!

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Roseann Milano
    2015/10/05

    Dear Trisha,

    I hope when I grow up I can be just like you. I admire your work ethic and talent. You are brilliant. And approachable. Thank you for your post.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/06

      Thanks Roseann — you are too kind. I am not so talented and not so brilliant, but I am approachable. I do love what I do which makes it easier.

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Carina
    2015/10/05

    What a trip! Great post! Living in Texas, I think I saw more criticism of the Pope than elsewhere (complete with the speculation he could be Muslim because of suggestions about compassion toward Muslim refugees (some people are 100% certifiable here)). I was less bothered by the Kim Davis meeting than others, in many ways, I feel like she (and her 4 husbands/exes) needs spiritual guidance and compassion as much as anyone. Of all the coverage I watched/read, I was most disturbed by the “plates flying” quote — the suggestion of violent intimidation/threatening behavior in a family being a given, or in any way acceptable. I was interested in watching the prison visit since I mostly deal with inmate litigation (defense side though), and I wonder what kind of case volume that facility will see in the next 2 years (until the statute of limitations) — will his words have made the inmates more forgiving and less likely to sue? Will there be fewer inmate-inmate assaults in the coming months as the effects of his visit linger? Will there be any suits about improper cavity searches before the visit? Will there be suits about religious preference given to Catholic inmates for the visit? Haha, time will tell… My questions for you (if you have time): what kind of food/where did you eat, and were there any Asian (Chinese or otherwise) journalists in the entourage?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/06

      Carina,
      Thanks for your interesting comment. I am amazed that some people in Texas thought he could be Muslim — you are right, certifiable!! My sister lives down there and she tells me some weird stuff too. Yikes. Anyway, on the Flying plates in family comment. I heard him say that also at a meeting with families in Assisi. I think it is something he has been saying to people since he was a priest. It didn’t bother me at all because I have been living in the Italian culture which exaggerates verbally — but not usually physically. I grew up in a Waspy family where we hardly ever fought, shouted, or yelled at each other. I remember when my Italian husband was still my boyfriend and we had a huge argument in the kitchen of his apartment in New York City and he said “if I had a knife, I would kill you.” Well, since we were in the kitchen, I didn’t take that too well. I walked out, went straight to the train station and took a train to my sister’s house outside the city. He didn’t mean it, but that is a Mediterranean way of speaking. You hear plenty of “t’ammazzo” (I am going to kill you) here in Rome. So perhaps the Pope, like the Italians, comes from a culture that talks like that but never acts on it.
      On the prison inmates, your thoughts and questions are fascinating. You clearly know so much and must have an incredible job. Wow. Not to be negative, but I don’t really think the Pope’s visit is going to change much in terms of treatment of prisoners or attitudes of inmates. I think real change takes much more time and a visit of a person like the Pope for an hour is not enough. But I do think it was good for the general public to see that visit on TV and be reminded that prisoners are people too.
      On the food — I really did have much time to eat. Oddly enough, we ate very well on the planes — Alitalia and American airlines — although we were at the back, I think they gave us First Class food and service. In Cuba the first night we went to a Cafe’ at the Plaza Vieja and had a nice meal and a mojito– the food was not great, but there was a fantastic band. In the US I ate huge breakfasts at the hotel at dawn (they had early breakfast service for the Vatican press corps). I discovered eating a lot of scrambled eggs at breakfast can get me through until dinner. Never had time for lunch, and dinner was the nearest place to the hotel for hamburger or a salad. Oh well.
      Finally, you asked if there were any Asian journalists on the plane. The answer is zero. There are very few Asian journalist who cover the Vatican regularly. On the trips to Asia there have been some who traveled with the Pope, but on this trip there were not any Asians at all.

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Kelly
    2015/10/07

    I was so excited to see this post. I was checking for it repeatedly over the weekend! Thank you so much for writing all of this. It’s just fascinating.

    My questions – what happens to all of the gifts that people hand to the Pope. In particular, what happens to something like the chairs that were custom made for him to sit on in Harlem and in Philly?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/08

      Hi Kelly, thanks for your enthusiastic comment. Glad to know you enjoyed the post. I have no clue what happens to all the big gifts that the Pope got in the US– I will ask. I know the gifts that the Pope gets in Rome are stored at the Vatican. During the Papacy of Benedict XVI, when they discovered that his butler had been photo-copying documents and handing them off to the press, they also discovered that in his home he had a number of gifts that had been given to the Pope. He explained that he was often told he could take those things because they were never used by anyone. I believe him on that. I think the Pope gets lots of gifts that just sit in storage. I will ask about this though — perhaps things have changed under Pope Francis. I know he was given a Harley Davidson as a gift and I believe he auctioned that off and gave the money to charity.

      Reply
  12. Avatar
    Kittie Perryman
    2015/10/10

    Hello! I’m so happy I found your blog. I’m fascinated by ‘behind the scenes’ coverage, especially for huge events such as the Papal visit. Just amazing what has to happen for something like this to take place, and how many people are involved. I’ve done some event work for organizations, and you’ve really captured the craziness, fun, and stress of that!

    Love the bit about Dr. Gasbarri; he does seem to be somewhere in nearly every wider picture taken (along with the bald security? guard and the interpreter).

    *off to read more of your blogs!*

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/10/11

      Kittie, I am so pleased you have discovered my blog. I am glad you liked my Behind-the-Scenes tales of the Papal trip. I hope you find some other posts you enjoy.

      Reply
  13. Avatar
    Sharon Malvoso
    2015/11/18

    I’m waiting to hear about Dorothy Day and your grandfather.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/11/18

      Thanks for reminding me Sharon. I will be going home for Christmas to Boston and I will pick my father’s brains and see if he has any documents about that friendship/working relationship. In the last post I wrote, I mentioned that a new book has revealed details on the huge amounts of money spent (in donations) to make people saints. Apparently the Dorothy Day cause has been slowed for lack of donors. Anyway, more on that later.

      Reply

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