WASHINGTON — Wednesday morning, Vicky Rivas-Vazquez, working for Telemundo in Washington, woke up at 3:30 a.m. to cover Pope Francis’ appearance at the White House that morning and the Canonization Mass in Washington later that afternoon.
And, she said, she was planning to do it again the following day.
Rivas-Vazquez jokingly called their efforts “Vatican TV 2,” as her network closely followed the pope’s movements while in the U.S.
With Francis’ arrival in the United States Sept. 22, members of the media from around the world converged on Washington, vying for the best coverage for their network.
The press had to put in long days, taking few breaks to eat or drink, as they stood for hours in the sun. Even after the close of the papal events, they still had to finish their stories and edit footage.
For some, covering the pope was a more intimate and personal experience than for other assignments.
Maria Pena, Washington correspondent at La Opinion/Impremedia, a Spanish-language newspaper based out of Los Angeles, said though she was there as a journalist, she could not help but remember her mother, a devout Catholic, who had died four years before and had gone to the Vatican to see the pope as one of her last wishes.
“As a journalist, of course it’s a historic moment,” Pena said. “It’s hard because I’m trying to focus and have the best quotes and the best interviews and pictures, but it’s really hard to separate yourself as a person,” Pena said. “It just reminds me of my mom’s devotion to the Catholic Church and its teachings.”
Rivas-Vazquez looked on as two of her colleagues cried after Pope Francis passed by during the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra. They were emotional because of what the pope signifies, his Latin American roots and their own Catholicism, Rivas-Vazquez explained.
Herb Jackson, Washington correspondent for The Record, in New Jersey, said while covering the pope, “it’s just a struggle to get around town and it’s a struggle to hurry up and get through security just to wait.”
When Pope Francis held his joint address to Congress, he got into the House gallery a little after 6 a.m. for a speech that began at 10 a.m.
In comparison, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress March 3, Jackson said, reporters had to be in the gallery a few minutes before he started speaking.
To cover the pope’s events, members of the press needed to plan ahead, packing everything they could possibly need for a marathon of a day, from extra batteries to snacks.
Teresa Welsh, foreign affairs reporter for U.S. News & World Report, was covering Francis from the angle of his diplomatic efforts and said that the coverage was exhausting.
“I feel like the world stopped for pope coverage,” Welsh said.
For Francis’ midday prayer with U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington Wednesday, Welsh said she had to be up at 4:30 in the morning to cover the event. For security purposes, members of the press were required to get into place hours before the pope’s arrival at his different site visits.
“I love getting as much sleep as the next person, but I got to see the pope,” Welsh said.
To get credentials, journalists had to apply over the summer through the U.S. Secret Service, but not every reporter was issued credentials for individual events, which were handled by Catholic Church officials.
Journalists who were not credentialed for certain events had access to filing centers with free Wi-Fi. In Washington, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, reporters watched a live video feed on two large screens. Rows of tables, with power outlets built in, allowed media to stay behind and churn out coverage. For reporters with secondary credentials, buses left filing centers hours before the pope was scheduled to arrive.
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania and editor and writer for Religion Dispatches, arrived in Washington Tuesday afternoon to start covering the pope’s visit.
“If you’re not part of this, you don’t really get to see how big of a deal it is,” Butler said. “It is really incredible that you have this amount of media for one religious figure.”