Traveling with Lino Rulli has many perks. On this trip, one of those perks was getting us to the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish church in the suburbs of Rome to hopefully see his boss, Cardinal Dolan, one last time before voting begins.
We had no plans to attend the Mass, as we had our own Mass scheduled for the group later in the day, but we did have another goal… Get to the Cardinal.
Today is Titular Church Day in Rome. Cardinals from all over return to their church in Rome to celebrate Mass with their parishes once more before entering the Conclave. In all likelihood, it will be the last time for one of these men in red to be accessible to the world. For one Cardinal, this was his last free weekend. Think about that! What do you do? Where do you go? Where do you have that final meal before your life is changed forever? For at least one Cardinal, it was the scrigno from Cecilia Metella (we ate there as well).
So with the flexible group we have, we rearranged a few things to drive up to Monte Mario with hopes, nothing more, of getting a glimpse of our American Cardinal Dolan.
We arrived to quite the media frenzy. Good Morning America was there, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, local channels from New York and Saint Louis, and some big players in the Italian media.
All were set up outside assuming the Cardinal would answer a few questions after Mass.
Somehow my group was able to get situated in front of the media, between the cameras and the microphones for Cardinal Dolan. Unfortunately, he never came out.
Some of the media were invited inside for a few brief words.
There was still a chance that we could get a private audience, if you will, with the Cardinal. We would have to wait until after the presser and maybe, just maybe, we could say hi before he left.
I ushered my group of 33 people to the side where the media was headed into the courtyard beside the church. As I did, I was swept up in the media rush to get in and slipped by ‘security’ and into a prime position. Here I was, surrounded by people I see on the major networks all the time, everyone with a camera or a mic, me with an iPhone and no press credentials. For a few minutes I was wedged between a wall and two well known anchors. Then a gate closed, another opened, and the stream of media again pulled me in. I glanced back over my shoulder to see my entire group behind the closed gate. I had made it in, they had not. For a second, my feet didn’t touch the ground as I was practically carried and pushed up a few stairs into the small courtyard beside the church.
Everyone set up here on a gravel driveway beside a chain link fence around a basketball court. Kids playing soccer on the court stopped and climbed to the top of the fence for a better view.
Just by chance I ended up again in front of the cameras, this time facing the media.
Those of us in waiting could not see, but heard the excitement from outside the gate as Cardinal Dolan, sandwich in hand, opened a window onto the piazza outside and waved at the crowd. Just a few minutes later, he was down with us.
From where he stood, he and I were nearly touching shoulders, and at one point we were. As the real media asked real questions, my only concern was how I could get him to meet my group. We were told as he came out, that he would answer just a few questions, then he would get into his car and that would be it.
I texted Lino, who was outside the locked gate with the group, to position himself in front of the gated driveway.
As the questions wrapped, I was able to get in just one more, one follow up question to “Are you ready to vote?” So what does a respected journalist ask a Cardinal just before he enters the Conclave? I’m not a journalist, respected or otherwise, but I am Catholic, so first I kissed the ring, and he would not let go of my hand, just looked at me and smiled as I said, “Cardinal Dolan, thank you. I am with Lino Rulli’s group, they are just outside the gate, can you please say hello as you leave?” He lit up, “Lino! Where is he? Let me see him!”
He was then ushered to his car, I stayed on him as he said goodbye to Chris Cuomo and a long time St. Louis anchor. I helped hold his door as he got into the front passenger seat, never letting me out of his sight.
As the wall of gates opened and he started to drive out, I stayed at the passenger window. When the car reached my group, right outside, I tapped the window and pointed to Lino. The Cardinal had the car stop, rolled down the window and grabbed Lino’s hand. He asked Lino to show him the group, said a few words to all my people – including to the group, “Make sure Lino pays for lunch!” and he was off.
The media was confused. Who was this guy that Cardinal Dolan stopped for and spoke with for well over a minute, nearly as long as his brief presser just before.
When he drove away, the media turned to Lino and the group. Just about everyone was interviewed over the next 15 minutes. I sat back and smiled.
I’m sure that had Lino made it through to the media area (he was credentialed even – but they stopped everyone outside after that initial rush) he would have gotten the Cardinal to say hello to the group on his way out. But as I was the only one able to sneak in, I knew I would have to summon my inner sanguine (which is buried very deep inside this melancholic) and step it up. This is what I do for my groups.
If this is truly Cardinal Dolan’s last public appearance, then it’s quite possible that I am the last to kiss the ring before he begins casting votes for the new pope. That’s pretty cool.
That’s also just day two of this group’s pilgrimage to Rome. How to follow up that? White smoke perhaps?