Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 5, 2013
During my five years in Rome as a seminarian and a young priest, I observed several peaceful invasions of the Vatican, by pilgrims and tourists both. I never saw, however, anything like the rush of the reporters I witnessed arriving at the Vatican this morning.
All along the Via della Conciliazione, the majestic boulevard leading to the world’s most famous basilica, there were television crews doing interviews.
In 2005, the last time there was a conclave, there were over 6,000 accredited journalists in Rome covering the events. As advances in technology have made it feasible for many smaller news organizations and even bloggers to broadcast live from Rome, thousands more are expected this time.
Why has Rome turned into a jungle of journalists?
While it’s true that the process for choosing the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest, and perhaps most mysterious, method for electing the leader of any world institution, the media mobs are not here just out of political curiosity.
Even though one out of six people on the planet — and one out of four Americans — is a Roman Catholic, the press are not packing into the world’s smallest country just to provide news of interest to this major reading demographic.
To bring many of the world’s top media professionals and organizations, including some of the most thoroughly secular ones, to set up mobile headquarters in Rome at enormous expense to cover an institution that these same outlets regularly downplay or ignore, something else is going on.
The reason, I believe, is because most new executives grasp that who becomes the next Pope is not just a tribal concern for committed Catholics. Rather, they realize that the identity, personality and effectiveness of the moral leadership of the next pope can — and likely will — impact the whole world.
Some pundits, like Barry Lynn or the late Christopher Hitchens, thunder against organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, as evil forces that must be shamed, marginalized and eliminated for the good of humanity.
Most objective observers, however, even those prone to classify Catholic doctrine alongside belief in the tooth fairy, recognize that the Catholic Church at her best has been and remains one of the world’s greatest forces for good.
From hospitals, to educational institutions, to food pantries and homeless shelters, to leprosaria and orphanages, to hospices and homes for sex trafficking victims, the Catholic Church has organized to care for those for whom society has not adequately protected or helped.
This is still the case today. One out of every four AIDS patients in the world, for example, is treated in a Catholic facility, and patients don’t have to show a baptismal certificate to receive that loving assistance.
Catholic Relief Services is one of the first — and most effective — agencies helping people rebuild after terrible natural disasters.
The Church’s unrelenting focus on the poor, especially in the most ignored areas, sensitizes the conscience of a desensitized world.
As the leader of the world’s largest religious organization— and charity — the Pope is recognized, even by atheists, as the planet’s most influential moral leader.
John Paul II’s moral courage and influence, for instance, is universally credited as one of the chief catalysts inspiring people behind the Iron Curtain to rise up to bring down the evil communist empire.
In an age with so many moral dilemmas, who the Pope is, and how he leads, concerns not just Catholics but all who seek justice, solidarity, and a better world.
That’s why all the media are crossing the Tiber.
And that’s why we all should be interested.