By Paloma Rives, Special Envoy
ROME, MARCH 25, 2012(Zenit.org).- We are 70 accredited journalists. It is 5:30 am, Friday, March 23. Everything is ready: passports, accreditation, plane reservations, journalists' visas to enter Cuba, the complete itinerary and, of course, the details of the papal flight for His Holiness Benedict XVI’s visit to Mexico and Cuba.
We go to Terminal 3, check-ins 249, 250 and 251. It’s still too early, perhaps because of our concern to be on time. We walk around as it’s not yet 6:00 am and we are meant to check in at 6:30, but there are virtually no passengers at the check-ins. We begin to feel a bit odd until we meet Maria Antonieta Collins, of Univision television network. Then, little by little, more journalists arrive, and from that moment we become travel and profession companions. Some are smiling, others are veterans of such journeys, and not a few of us are full of hope at Rome’s Da Vinci international airport.
Who are the accredited journalists on the papal flight? How many times have they covered a papal visit? What is their religious position? In a word, who are we and how is it that we are traveling with Benedict XVI to Mexico and Cuba?
While waiting for instructions regarding our boarding passes, I recall the previous day in the Vatican Press Office. It was an altogether inter-cultural scene. We heard many different languages: Spanish, Italian, French; and it was a whole universe of cameras, speakers, writers and special envoys. We spoke with Jorgen Erbacher Zaf, who works for German Television. Erbacher has covered more than 20 trips with this Pope. He began his career with Vatican Radio in Rome and he answered this question very simply: What was the greatest challenge you faced in covering these trips? In all visits, it’s very important to note the main problems of each country and how the Pope speaks in each of them. On this occasion – Mexico – where people need hope for the future, the Pope will give a message of peace and tolerance. The same is true for Cuba. The conditions call people to increase their faith and love. It will be very interesting to hear and analyze the messages in order to transmit them.
Erbacher now looks intently and ends by advising “we must be observant and be prepared at all times to comply in time and in form.”
In fact, the levels of protocol and punctuality are much greater than in any other reporting job. The program of work we were handed with the accreditation leaves no loose ends. Times of meetings, outings, room numbers, events to which we have access, description of each place we will visit, dress code, in sum, a real example of protocol, organization and logistics. Perhaps that’s why we arrived at the airport well ahead of time.
Now we are asked for our passport and our ticket stub, and we are graciously handed our boarding passes. Our joy is hard to dissimulate. It is 7:30 am Roman time, midnight Mexican time. The TV journalists begin their live connections.
Others of us update Facebook and begin interviews. Although busy, there's still time for butterflies in our stomachs, our nerves getting the best of us, given our emotions and huge responsibility. The point is to do our very best.
We talk with Pedro Ferriz de Con, who has a solid journalist’s career in Mexico. With kindness and great camaraderie, he shares with us his thoughts about Benedict XVI. In this world and at this time we are avid for leaders. There is not much leadership. Youth need leaders; society in general needs leadership and I think what we most need to hear is that the future is certain and reliable. Given what we see, it would seem that there is no future. There is violence, unemployment, ineffectiveness of institutions and ways that lead us to despair. Someone must come to tell us that with unity, rationality, civility, work and commitment, and community awareness we can make this world viable. I have the impression that man’s institutions worked for a while and now everything is floundering. So leadership must come, such as Benedict’s, and the Church’s as institution, to let us see that there is a way.
There are those who defend their faith despite systematic attacks. What is your opinion on this matter? On hearing the question, Ferriz de Con touches on a topic that calls for reflection, man’s constant struggle to pronounce himself on the existence of spirituality: Within that decision, you must come to a conclusion: Does God exist or not? Then there are two paths. Either you choose the path of faith and are a believer or you enter a scheme of atheism and reject the idea that there is life after death. I have known atheists who at the end of their lives have believed, and I have known Catholics or believers who at the end of their days cease to believe because of issues they have experienced. There has always been a persecution between those who believe and those who don’t with a nuance: the one who does not believe is 'shielded' because it is a liberal, very 'courageous' stance. Let him be, who does not believe in God; however, the Cristero persecution has always existed. Ever since Christ said those who follow me will have a hard time, we have had it. We have been identified, seen and persecuted and I think it will be like this up to the end.
I ask Ferriz de Con: Are you a believer? “I am. Besides having been born and raised in a very believing Catholic family, I have come very close to death and I know what it feels like.”
A voice is heard on the loudspeakers of room H14, announcing that boarding of the plane has begun. No doubt during this trip to Mexico and Cuba with Benedict XVI, those of us who share his light will continue to learn more about one another.