Around the world in 577 days

VATICAN CITY — Samuel Clear from Tasmania was in Rome this week on the last leg of his walk around the world promoting prayer for Christian unity. You can read about it here.

An official at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity gave me a call Monday morning asking me if I wanted to come over and interview Sam and hear his fascinating story. When I got to the Vatican offices, Sam still hadn’t shown; he was still being interviewed at Vatican Radio.

As we waited over an hour, the Vatican officials started to get worried. Here Sam had successfully navigated his way from Sydney to Rome, could he have gotten lost between the radio and their office — just 100 yards away — they wondered?!

Luckily he had just made a leisurely pit stop to get something to eat and showed up later at the Holy See Press Office for his interview with CNS.

You can read details about his trip on his blog and join a growing list of Christians praying for unity at his Walk4one initiative here.

Where did Sam go and where is Sam now? Just check his map or Excel spreadsheet to find out!

Candid camera

Catholic Press Photo photographer Alessia Giuliani caught the following candid photo of CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis at Park East Synagogue in New York April 18. Thavis, who has covered the Vatican for more than 25 years for Catholic News Service,  also covered Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986.

Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief John Thavis covers the arrival of the Pope Benedict XVI in the Park East Synagogue in New York April 18. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Cranking it out during the papapalooza

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the U.S. was a short one compared to the lengthier jaunts of his globe-trotting predecessor, but this 81-year-old pope packed in a lot during the six days of his Great American Papapalooza.

As journalists, we at CNS throw ourselves into such events and come up for air after the last note of the last tune is played. In this case, once Shepherd One left JFK and the last photos and stories were filed. After that, you realize just how much reporting a short papal trip can take when you’re a wire service with global clients.

For Catholic News Service, here are six days by the numbers:

English language stories filed, including updates and texts: 182

Spanish language stories: 25

Photos and graphics: 570

Texts published in this week’s 36-page issue of Origins, CNS documentary service: 18

Blog entries: 61

Photographers fielded: 9

Reporters fielded: 15

Editors and researchers working the desks: 9

Help from friends and colleagues: much and appreciated

It takes a lot of teamwork to pull off this level of coverage, especially for a wire service that is dwarfed by the likes of AP and Reuters. But it was a great trip reported by a great team.

We’d do it again in a heartbeat. I bet the pope wouldn’t mind coming back either.

Things critics forget to mention

Here at CNS, we don’t mind criticism (it comes with the territory), but it always helps if the criticism is well informed. Unfortunately, our critics sometimes choose to ignore or are totally unaware of other stories that balance out the one story that they didn’t like. Here’s just one example (of many) of a story the critics forget to mention.

Kids say the darndest things

My daughter’s pre-K teacher offered an opportunity for parents to talk about what they do during the day while their children attend school. Given the distaste in which some people hold journalists, I didn’t know whether my job would qualify. But qualify it did. When offered a choice of dates, I had to pass on all dates the week of April 14. But when the 9 a.m. slot came open for April 21 — the date after Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit — I eagerly applied for it.

I got a cheat sheet of questions that students have tended to ask at these 15-minute sessions. But I came prepared with a reporter’s notebook, since children this age are just starting to put words together, so writing letters and words clearly is a big plus in my line of work. I also showed them a copy of the April 17 Nationals Park Mass program (and told them I got to sit in the press box), a copy of the April 16 White House welcoming program, a big picture of Pope Benedict and an even larger placard with the Catholic News Service logo. And I draped my many papal-trip ID lanyards over my neck for effect.

I was introduced by the teacher’s aide as “the pope’s right-hand man.” I told two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds as best as I could about what I usually do as well as what I had done in the past week. They asked me, among other things, the type of work that I do, how long I had been at my job, what equipment I use for my job, where my office is, how many people I work with, and what kind of clothing I wear on the job.

Someone asked if I had met the pope. “The pope isn’t that interested in meeting me,” I replied — my job was to write about people who wanted to see and meet the pope — although I did tell them that I was as close to Pope Benedict as I was to their teacher at one point during the Washington leg of the visit. I also told them of how the pope got to meet a young boy who was losing his sight and had wanted to meet the pontiff.

One boy said when he was watching the pope on TV that he noticed a lot of police. I told the class how the police want to protect a very important man, and what it was about Pope Benedict that made him important.

But that was the jumping-off point for the class to ask questions about the police. Another child asked me if I “touched dogs” in my job. I replied in the affirmative (well, you never know what kind of assignment you’ll get from day to day), but then some other kid asked if I caught cats and dogs for a living. Well, no, I had to say. Then someone asked if my daughter and I “fit in the same bed.” Again, I had to say no, my daughter has her own bed. “How many of you have your very own bed that you sleep in?” I asked them. A big show of hands — which led to descriptions of what their beds look like. “Mine has birds on it.” “I have a bed with butterfilies.” And so on.

After that line of questioning, I had to ask the class my own question: How many of you know what a blog is? A few hands went up, more tentatively than with my who-has-their-own-bed question. I explained in very broad terms what a blog was and, before I gave a description of the popemobile, told the youngsters, “Something tells me I’ll be writing a blog about our conversation right here.” The teacher and teacher’s aide sure knew what I was talking about!


Reliving the papal trip to America

Priests reach out to Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York April 20. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Don’t forget that you can relive the historic visit of Pope Benedict to the United States by watching the slideshow we’ve posted on our Web site, CNS deployed an army of photographers to the events on the papal itinerary, supplemented by photos from the Reuters news agency, to give our clients the best possible selection of images to illustrate the trip. These iconic photos will be showing up in your Catholic publications in the next days and weeks, but you can see many of these by opening the slideshow link above. (Hint: Click on the arrow in the lower right corner to start the slideshow.)

Text of pope at farewell ceremony

Here is the text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s address during the departure ceremony tonight at John F. Kennedy International Airport:

Mr. Vice-President,
Distinguished Civil Authorities,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The time has come for me to bid farewell to your country. These days that I have spent in the United States have been blessed with many memorable experiences of American hospitality, and I wish to express my deep appreciation to all of you for your kind welcome. It has been a joy for me to witness the faith and devotion of the Catholic community here. It was heart-warming to spend time with leaders and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions, and I renew my assurances of respect and esteem to all of you. I am grateful to President Bush for kindly coming to greet me at the start of my visit, and I thank Vice-President Cheney for his presence here as I depart. The civic authorities, workers and volunteers in Washington and New York have given generously of their time and resources in order to ensure the smooth progress of my visit at every stage, and for this I express my profound thanks and appreciation to Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.

Once again I offer prayerful good wishes to the representatives of the see of Baltimore, the first Archdiocese, and those of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, in this jubilee year. May the Lord continue to bless you in the years ahead. To all my Brother Bishops, to Bishop DiMarzio of this Diocese of Brooklyn, and to the officers and staff of the Episcopal Conference who have contributed in so many ways to the preparation of this visit, I extend my renewed gratitude for their hard work and dedication. With great affection I greet once more the priests and religious, the deacons, the seminarians and young people, and all the faithful in the United States, and I encourage you to continue bearing joyful witness to Christ our Hope, our Risen Lord and Savior, who makes all things new and gives us life in abundance.

One of the high-points of my visit was the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and I thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his kind invitation and welcome. Looking back over the sixty years that have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I give thanks for all that the Organization has been able to achieve in defending and promoting the fundamental rights of every man, woman and child throughout the world, and I encourage people of good will everywhere to continue working tirelessly to promote justice and peaceful co-existence between peoples and nations.

My visit this morning to Ground Zero will remain firmly etched in my memory, as I continue to pray for those who died and for all who suffer in consequence of the tragedy that occurred there in 2001. For all the people of America, and indeed throughout the world, I pray that the future will bring increased fraternity and solidarity, a growth in mutual respect, and a renewed trust and confidence in God, our heavenly Father.

With these words, I take my leave, I ask you to remember me in your prayers, and I assure you of my affection and friendship in the Lord. May God bless America!