First Papal Audience with Journalists
I just caught, when turning from C-SPAN'S British Elections coverage (which I will be blogging about later this week), to Fox News there was to my utter surprise, LIVE coverage of the new Pope Benedict XVI giving his first audience to the media.
My first instinct was to turn to the other cable news networks to see if they were carrying the audience as well.
They were not.
CNN were doing some Kirstie Alley "People in the News" re-run, whilst MSNBC had on David Letterman in their soporific Headliners & Legends series. Apparently, the new Pope isn't a headliner, or a legend...yet.
But I ask you, would it have killed them to have covered this momentous first touch with THEMSELVES, the media after all, by the freshly-minted Pope?
I mean, I understand if it were a weekly audience, which is old hat. But it's at 5 AM in the morning; it's a new Pope; it's him reaching out to the Fourth Estate; and it's not like Kirstie Alley is _breaking news_ or anything. Unless Jenny Craig just dumped her contract. (Oh hush)
I mean, come on, it's so palpable the disregard CNN and MSNBC have for Papa Ratzi, that they don't even bother to hide it.
As if we needed another omen for things to come...I know I shouldn't care anymore, but it grates. It really does.
The audience itself started by the Pope entering a room packed with journalists (some who had been encouraged to bring their families, including kids!), with not a seat to be seen empty in a huge arena-like communications centre of the Vatican.
The Pope was seated on a spankingly scrubbed, white, high-backed throne on an immense Aubusson rug, with a slew of red sashed Cardinals seated neatly to his left, and flanked by a motionless Swiss guard, and two Cardinals to each side of him.
I don't recall how previous audiences were with the late John Paul II, but one gets the sense this Pope demands clean, simple visual lines, and has that much-vaunted German sense of order.
On the other hand, with his gold-rimmed reading glasses perched askew on his nose, it gave you the sense he didn't go out and buy a new pair of Armani specs to dazzle his largely Italian audience, who love to cut "la bella figura". These were the old pair he must use every day.
I use the plural since he spoke in
- Then back to Italian
Not missing a beat, I tell you.
He didn't pause once in any of the languages (with one or two phonetic lapses, but that's all), and has a very gemütlich Bavarian sing-songy cadence to his speech. I love it already.
For some reason, though it is entirely imaginable that he would have, I didn't expect him to speak in English at this audience. So when he launched with the briefest of pauses to look up at the audience, from Italian to English, I had to catch my breath.
"Wow! This is the first time I hear the new Pope speak English!"
I'm sure that was the case with millions too. I wonder what was their immediate reaction?
He started by thanking the gathered press for their unflagging efforts these past two weeks since the death of his "unforgettable predecessor".
Thanks to all of you, these historically important ecclesiastical events have had world-wide coverage.
I know how hard you have worked, far away from your homes and families, for long hours and in sometimes difficult conditions. I am aware of the skill and dedication with which you have accomplished your demanding task. In my own name, and especially on behalf of Catholics living far from Rome, who were able to participate in these stirring moments for our faith, as they were taking place, I thank you for all you have done.
The possibilities opened up for us by modern means by social communications are indeed marvellous, and extraordinary.
The Second Vatican Council spoke of the great potential of the media. In fact, the Council fathers devoted their first document to this theme, and said that the media are a group (quote), 'by their nature are capable of reaching and influencing not only individuals, but whole masses of people, indeed the whole of humanity'.
Ever since of December the 4th, 1963, when the decree Inter Mirifica was promulgated, humanity has been witnessing an extraordinary media revolution, affecting every aspect of human life.
He paused for the briefest of seconds, before launching into French. By the way, each of the messages in each language was tailored to its direct audience -- they differed here and there, as in Italian he thanked Msgr. John Patrick Foley, President of the Pontificate Media Association, who opened the proceedings with a few kind words (we didn't hear it, since coverage began when the Pope was already speaking).
Since I am used to my mother's German pronunciation and rhythms of English words, I was able to understand every word he said, no problem, and I have transcribed his whole speech in English by pausing and starting my DVD-R recording. I'm sure it won't hit the news wires for at least a few minutes, so you have a head start should you be reading this.
Because his speaking pace was brisk, in fact, all 5 formal speeches took a maximum of 10 minutes, and the whole event 15, he sometimes misspoke a word or two in English such as "capable" (short a instead of long), but no matter. His nerves may have failed him, but the purpose of his speech was immense.
And what a message!
In such short paragraphs he was able to impart a strong impression, because his content was rock-solidly clear.
They say he is one of the Roman Catholic Church's greatest theologians of the 20th century, and one can sense that rapier academic mind at work to convey nuances in 3 short paragraphs.
First, he thanked the media for their sacrifices during the Death, Funeral, Conclave coverage.
Second, he mentioned their skill in their metier, which is not an insignificant part of a smooth world-wide operation, which I myself acknolwedge freely (even if it pains me to find them so biased in their coverage). To think he is thanking these people, almost all of whom as a block have been negative to the point of viciousness to him -- well it makes me realise what forgiveness, or not even that, but just not "sweating the small stuff", really means. Bravo Benedict.
Third, a word of solicitude to the millions and millions of pilgrims to the Vatican these past weeks.
Fourth, the very real impact of world news coverage.
Fifth, and perhaps most revealingly, he noted that the Second Vatican Council (of which he was considered one of the mavericks of progress, let us remember) had made great emphasis of the role media could play in transmitting to millions of Catholics world wide. This happened almost 42 years ago, which is not an eyeblink. This is his way of saying, what I am doing (giving you your dues as reporters), is nothing new. What the previous Pope did, is a continuation of something we in the Vatican have long since acknowledged and favoured -- that through you, we can reach people who are once and future Catholics. In turn, you cover the Papacy, and its trappings and get eyeballs looking at you, precisely because we are so numerous as a religion.
In other words, he is emphasising the SYMBIOTIC nature of the Roman Catholic Church, and its adherents, through journalism. In the modern world, one cannot function fully without the other.
And as he well-stated, this is a revolutionary concept in the history of humanity -- the logical conclusion of the Gutenberg movable-type printing press.
Not exactly the antediluvian, doctrinally aloof reactionary we have been led to expect, ain't he?
Immediately upon finishing his English version, you felt a frisson from the massed audience, and when he finished the French translation of the same speech later, the audience broke out into unrestrained applause.
It was marvellous to see that, and as Fox News commentator Father John Zuhlsdorf said, the atmosphere when he stopped and left the room was electric. You'd think a rock star had finished his set and left to frenzied appreciation and excitement.
Never mind Elvis...
"Benedict XVI has left the building".