By Susan Barnett
VATICAN (CBS) – I woke late this morning after 14 hours of uninterrupted sleep, 8pm Thursday to 10am Friday, and boy did I need it!
The past 5 days have been an exhilarating journey; to Rome and home again, the election of the first Latin American Pope, and experiencing it all looking into the lense of a television camera.
The opportunity to travel to Vatican City for CBS3 to cover the Papal Conclave has been the assignment of a lifetime. Standing in St. Peter’s Square in the middle of thousands of people at the very moment white smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel was one of the most moving events of my life. The energy and anticipation of pilgrims from all over the world, standing in the pouring rain, waving flags from their native countries, many with Rosary beads wrapped around their hands — praying the new Holy Father would be one who understands the struggles facing their people was incredibly powerful.
The one thing that will always stand out in my mind came after the smoke appeared and the crowd gasped and cheered. Knowing that the man the Cardinals elected would soon make his first appearance on the balcony of the Basilica, the entire crowd rushed forward, squeezing themselves even more uncomfortably close to one another in hopes of securing a better view of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. It was amazing… no one got trampled, and there were very few cross words of annoyance or frustration exchanged between people.
As the crowd squeezed in more closely, many people, including myself, had to abandon their umbrellas as there was literally just no room for them anymore. But looking back, something some could only describe as eerily divine happened. The rain stopped and the night sky cleared, almost as if making way for the Vatican band to parade the Church’s new leader to his stage on the balcony above the masses. Suddenly there was no longer a need for the umbrellas that sheltered the faithful. It almost magically became just a pleasant evening to wait with anxious anticipation for Pope Francis to greet his adoring flock.
As we waited and waited, I ultimately had to leave the square to get to my live shot location on the roof of a convent next door. I found myself going against the thick crowd chanting a chorus of “excuse me, pardon me” as I squeezed through trying to find the exit (this was one of the only moments, I admit, that I got a few confused, dare I say, dirty looks from people). I can’t say I blame them, but I moved by as gently and respectfully as I could.
While I was en-route to my broadcast post, the main event got underway. The Cardinal Proto-Deacon appeared on the balcony and proclaimed, in Latin, “I announce to you a great joy”, “Habemus Papum” (We have a Pope). Soon after Pope Francis appeared. He asked for prayers from his followers and led them in prayer… chanting the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” in unison. I witnessed some of this with my neck craned to look behind me as I moved quickly to my CBS location.
When I arrived, I stood at an arm’s length from CBS reporters and anchors from all over the country, all talking at the same time, back to our respective viewers about the historic event we all just witnessed. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I was entrusted with reporting a sacred moment in history, one that, for Catholics especially, could not be compromised. It was a responsibility I did not take lightly and I did my best to focus and communicate my experience as vividly and eloquently as possible. After all, that is why CBS3 sent me more than 4,000 miles away; to witness something most people never would, but to help them feel as if they did.
Being entrusted with this assignment was an absolute honor… and having a front row seat to a spectacle the entire world was watching is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I can only hope that in the future I will be asked to travel to cover a news story as big, but in the meantime, I plan to get plenty of rest.