By Julie Asher
One in a series.
Catholic News Service Rome bureau staffers always get to cover papal trips, yet, as Pope Francis’ visit approached, we in Washington began thinking about our favorite moments of when we got to cover popes. No one in our newsroom is a papal rookie, so we agreed to share some of our stories.
Back in 1979, Thomas Lorsung, CNS’ retired director and editor-in chief, was managing editor of the news service — then known as NC News — when Pope John Paul II visited the U.S. in 1979. As Lorsung writes, there was a break in editing stories the last day of that papal trip, allowing him to get out of the newsroom and wander down to the National Mall where the pope was celebrating Mass. Here’s his account:
By Thomas N. Lorsung
WASHINGTON (NC) — I thought of it as “body surfing.”
There was a lull in the action of editing stories on the last day of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States and I decided to walk to the city’s Mall and look for myself at the papal Mass concluding the visit.
The 20-minute walk took me down deserted streets and, as the Mass site approached, past vendors selling all manner of buttons, calendars, pennants and papal flags. There was even a “special graphic” — a modern original poster — commemorating the visit of the pope to the nation’s capital.
It was not a cold day by my Milwaukee-bred resistance, but with temperatures in the 60s and a steady breeze blowing, there was a wind-chill factor operating.
At 12th and Madison, I was at the edge of a crowd and from there could hear the pope reading the creed in his now-familiar, solid, deliberate baritone.
Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass Oct. 7, 1979, on the National Mall. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell, Smithsonian Institution)
But seeing him was another matter. From that distance, half a block away, he was just a speck on a white stage. I wanted to closer to put some of the crowd and at least some possibly identifiable image on some Instamatic film left in my children’s camera, which I stuffed in my briefcase at the last minute when I left for work a week before.
At the crowd’s edge the “body surfing” began. It did not involve surfing with the body as much as it meant surfing through bodies to edge closer to the action.