Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Helping Media, Director Has Unique View Of Pope

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 1, 2008

In her regular job, Pat Chivers works as the communications director for the Atlanta Archdiocese. During the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, as a member of a communications team assembled to handle the media responsibilities, she shepherded hundreds of reporters and journalists covering the event. After catching up on sleep and returning to her day job, Chivers responded to questions from The Georgia Bulletin about her experience.

Can you describe your job during the papal visit? I was asked to serve on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Team to assist with media relations in Washington, D.C., and New York during the week of the papal visit. Some 5,500 media credentials were issued for the events of the papal visit. I assisted in supervising groups of broadcast and print media at each of the events where Pope Benedict XVI would be present.

How did you get recruited? The invitation came by phone from Helen Osman, secretary of communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Helen and I became acquainted during the past year at several USCCB meetings involving communications directors. I asked Archbishop Gregory for permission to be on loan to the USCCB for the week, and he granted his approval. I then sent my background information to the USCCB to receive clearance from the Secret Service. Upon arrival in Washington D.C., I received staff credentials and Secret Service credentials that were required to be displayed at all times.

Tell us what a typical day was during the visit: What time did you get up, how did you arrive at events, how did you eat, what time was your day over, etc. Every day was exciting and different. I awoke very early, anywhere between 2:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to begin the necessary security checks. I was assigned an area of the event and was provided with a tag for my credentials and a sign to hold up that had letters and numbers with a code that matched a group of media folks. My group was different each day, but we spent the day together in the security line, on the bus that transported us, and at the event. They were very friendly and appreciative of our help. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting television, radio, and newspaper professionals from around the world. Once we had gone through the security check, no one could wander out of the secure area without risking the loss of the credentials for the event. We had to bring along snacks to eat since we were not allowed to leave the assigned area and the day usually lasted from before dawn to the late afternoon or well into the evening. When some people failed to bring food, we shared energy bars, fruit or whatever we had to share. In the evenings, the communications team met for a briefing of the next day’s assignment, logistics, and preparations for the timing of the distribution of the texts of the pope’s speeches. Even though I averaged three and a half to four hours of sleep each night, I seemed to have unlimited energy until I arrived back in Atlanta.

What is a funny story you can tell about your experience? On our way to St. Joseph’s Church in Manhattan, we waited on the bus as the Secret Service personnel did the security check of the church. There were people on the streets dressed in traditional German clothes with musical instruments planning to perform as the pope arrived. They performed for the media on the bus. Of course, the photographers snapped their pictures and reporters leaned out of the bus door and windows getting their names for their stories. It was hilarious to see how reporters can make a story out of just about anything at any moment.

Your universe shrunk during the pope’s visit to Washington, D.C., and New York and you had up-close views of the many special events. Does one stand out for you and why? Just being in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI every day for the entire week was absolutely phenomenal. Every time I saw him and witnessed the joy in his face and his love for the people, I was overcome with emotion. Excitement was everywhere as we waited for him to arrive at each event. The holiness of each occasion was deeply felt. Everyone seemed to know that we were sharing a moment in history that we would not forget. At the Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I was especially touched as I looked around at all the priests, deacons, brothers and sisters who filled the church with joy and awe for the time they would be with the pope at the Holy Mass. The choir was absolutely breathtaking, and the voices of the priests, deacons and brothers made my eyes well up with tears. I was close to the front of the church by the television cameras with a perfect view of the altar. I will always treasure the experience of being with the Holy Father as he celebrated the Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Some paint the media with a broad brush and say it is hostile to the Catholic Church. How would you describe the women and men who covered the pope’s visit? What did you learn about the press that you didn’t already know? The men and women who covered the pope’s visit were very respectful of the pope and the Catholic Church. There was a genuine curiosity from many of the non-Catholics. On numerous occasions, I was asked to explain the Catholic faith to reporters who were sincerely trying to understand what they were witnessing as hundreds of thousands of people were drawn to the events of the papal visit just to have a glimpse of our Holy Father and to hear his message of hope. Some of the questions were simple, such as, what is the difference between a priest, a deacon and a brother? Some were more challenging as I was asked to explain the pope’s message at the ecumenical prayer service and why the pope was reaching out to people of other faiths on this visit to the United States.

About the pope’s red shoes, are they fire-engine red or muted? The pope’s shoes are bright red like tongues of fire, and they suited him well.