VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said that unless there is a serious new wave of COVID-19 infections in Iraq, he has every intention of visiting the country in early March.
Even if social distancing requirements mean most Iraqis will see the papal events only on television, he said, “they will see that the pope is there in their country.”
“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” Pope Francis told Catholic News Service Feb. 1. He also said that if he had to, he would consider taking a regular commercial flight to get there.
The pope is scheduled to travel to Iraq March 5-8. St. John Paul II had hoped and planned to go to Iraq in 2000, particularly to visit the city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham, recognized as the patriarch of faith in one God by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Tensions in the region made the trip impossible, and St. John Paul “wept” that he could not go, Pope Francis said, adding that he does not want to disappoint the people a second time.
The meeting with Catholic News Service marked the 100th anniversary of the news agency of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Asked about the role of U.S. Catholic journalists today, Pope Francis said, it is to promote unity and to “try to get people to talk to each other, reason together and seek the path of fraternity.”
“A divided Church is not the Church,” he said.
“The Church in the United States is a Church that has been courageous — the history it has and the saints — and has done so much,” the pope said. “But if the communications media throw gas on the fire on one side or another, it doesn’t help.”
“The path of division leads nowhere,” he said. “Remember the prayer of Jesus, ‘That they may all be one’ — unity that is not uniformity, no. Unity with differences, but one heart. ‘I think this way, you think that. We can discuss it,’ but with the same heart.”
“There are perhaps traditionalist groups in the United States, but there are here in the Vatican, too,” he said.
Pope Francis said that when he met with a newspaper association in Buenos Aires, Argentina, years ago, he told them to beware of four sins and that those sins are still a threat to news media today: “disinformation” or giving only part of the story, because the nuances of the whole story are essential for discovering truth; “calumny, which is a grave sin, ruining the reputation of another” with a lie; “defamation,” which is similar, but often involves publishing something from someone’s past, “even though changed their lives”; and “coprophilia,” which he described as “a love of dirt,” because “scandal sells.”
“Don’t fall into these sins,” he said.
After missing several big liturgies and appointments over the new year and again in late January because of a flare-up of sciatica, a painful nerve condition, Pope Francis said he can tell when an attack is coming on, and he tells his doctor. The physician’s advice, he said, is to cancel or postpone events where he would be standing for long periods, because the pressure would make the condition much worse the next day.
But, he said, the doctor told him, “But do the Angelus or people will say you are dead.”
Asked his opinion of the Church in the United States, Pope Francis said it is “a Church that is alive, vivacious.” He pointed in particular to the vast network of Catholic schools and to the Church’s efforts to assist and help integrate immigrants; he specifically mentioned the leadership of Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas.
“It is a Church that is ‘catholic’ in the sense of universal because of immigration. What the Church has done for immigrants is great. And, also, it is very generous in helping others and it is humble because of how much it suffered from the crisis of sexual abuse,” he said. “And it’s a Church that prays.”
“You know its defects better than I do,” he said, but “I look at the U.S. Church with hope.”
Visual storytelling has always been integral to 100 years of CNS coverage
In the 1920s, it was news sheets with pictures; today it’s instant delivery of still photos and videos — a news service history of giving the Church a visual record of the important events of the time.
The National Catholic Welfare Council (later Conference) News Service, under the direction of its founding editor, Justin McGrath, produced a weekly Picture Service in 1922 — “The Catholic World Through the Camera.” The photos were provided in matrix form to 13 subscribers.
According to a news service article in 1947, “Not only a pioneer effort in the field of Catholic journalism, the idea of a full page of news pictures was something unique in the secular journalism field. … It was not until five years later that The New York Times decided that the trend was definitely toward news pictures.”
The article also expressed a philosophy that has carried through to the present day: “Every effort is made to synchronize the pictures with stories appearing in the NCWC News Service. Sources of pictures include all the major news-photo gathering agencies … and scores of correspondents … throughout the world.”
Among photos on a 1922 page are images ranging from relief efforts in Russia to the funeral of Michael Collins, assassinated head of the Irish Free State, and an injury to Harry Heilman, Detroit Tigers right fielder and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
By the 1960s, photo clients had an option to choose glossy photos over the matrix system.
In August 1995, an advisory on the news service wire announced: “Today is a special day in the history of Catholic News Service. It’s the official launch of the digital photo service via the CNS Bulletin Board System (CNS BBS). For the first time, you can receive CNS photos on demand, 24 hours a day, via electronic means.”
Clients dialed into the system via modem to retrieve the digital files. The CNS Bulletin Board System was an inexpensive alternative to satellite delivery. The new BBS was appreciated during the October 1995 trip by St. John Paul II to New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
Then-photo editor Nancy Wiechec recalled, “I remember being back in the modem room … and watching the system go nuts when we posted the first photos of the pope’s arrival. At that time, we were shooting film, developing it and then scanning select negatives to post to the BBS.”
In 2000, CNS purchased its first digital cameras — Canon D30s. About a year later, CNS photographers shot exclusively digital.
When CNS launched its website in 1999, the digital photo service moved to that platform. By 2005 it made “select photos available for use on client websites … in an easy to use format.”
The news service covered the Vatican photographically by relying on other news agencies and freelancers, but Wiechec and Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief, saw the value in establishing a photographer job in Rome. They had a ready candidate in Paul Haring, who joined the staff in 2004.
Since 2009, Haring has covered the papacy and the Vatican full time. He traveled on 34 international papal flights including all of Pope Francis’ international trips. He also covered many papal visits within Italy.
CNS staff photographer Bob Roller said he hears from client editors every week that they value having a news service photographer in Rome.
He cited the grueling schedule Haring faced during “ad limina” visits. “I don’t know how he did it,” Roller said appreciatively.
Haring’s background included everything from yearbook and wedding photography to working on military publications in the D.C. area. In 2001, he was one of the first photographers on the scene of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. His work with the military also provided training in the new digital photography before it was mainstream.
CNS launched its video service in September 2009, following the lead of the larger media groups, which began to add video to give their audience a way of being transported into the story in the same way that broadcast television had been doing for decades. By 2012 CNS made the video service part of its basic package.
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his impending resignation from the papacy in early 2013, CNS decided to document the historic event and the eventual election of Pope Francis in video.
CNS saw the popularity of the video service and viewership grow dramatically during this period. Now if it’s a big Catholic event, like World Youth Day, CNS sends a videographer/video producer along with staff reporters and photographers to give its clients complete media coverage.
For the past several years, CNS Multimedia Editor Chaz Muth has reported his stories using photography, videography and print.
Video is no longer a novelty at CNS. It’s a standard in its media offerings. The videos are mostly embedded in CNS stories on clients’ websites, but they also are used in social media and on Catholic television stations.
As of Feb. 1, the CNS YouTube channel had more than 13.6 million views. That’s a lot of “zest” in a new form.
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