Monday, April 21, 2008

Like a candle in the wind - but much more complicated

Whew! Are you poped out? I must say I am surprised by the intensity of my own pope fever. I wasn't working in the office this past week, so while I was home I had the TV and/or radio on most of the time, tracking BXVI's every move. EWTN was my destination for comprehensive (and reverent) coverage, but when I grew weary of the Raymond Arroyo-Rev. Neuhaus commentary team I turned to NY1, where the coverage was surprisingly thorough and the discussions well informed. (The NY1 anchors themselves tended to be clueless, of course, but they were smart enough to assemble a roster of knowledgeable guests to help them out.) On Saturday I got my chance to see His Holiness both in and out of the popemobile with my very own eyes -- more on that soon -- and on Sunday, I rested and watched his final appearances in NYC. His appearance at the WTC site was so very moving, and so different from all the other public events. The pope's words were few. He prayed mostly in silence. The crowd was small. Most of the short time the pope spent there was devoted to meeting the survivors and listening to their stories. Even more than the others, it was an event defined by images: Benedict kneeling in prayer, the compassionate expression on his face as the survivors spoke to him, the candle he lit in remembrance of the lives lost.

When Benedict knelt to pray, you could hear only the clicking of the many photographers' shutters. (I don't know why they continued taking pictures, since he didn't move at all for about two solid minutes, but they did.) I enjoyed seeing the photos, so I can't complain about that disruption, but I do have to call your attention to the dumbest photo caption ever written. In case that link doesn't work (or the caption gets fixed): it's part of a slide show of pictures from Sunday. This one shows the pope, flanked by his clerical retinue, lighting the candle at the WTC site. One bishop holds the taper; another holds the glass cylinder that will protect the flame after it has been lit. And the caption says:
Then, with assistance from two clerical aides, he lighted a candle — apparently with a little bit of difficulty at first, perhaps because of technical problems.
Okay, first of all, it was windy. As was completely obvious to anyone who watched the event on television, and, I imagine, to those who listened in on the radio (since the sound comes through the microphones). Also, have you ever been to that part of Manhattan? It's always breezy down there. But even if you somehow managed to observe this event, and you perceived that the candle-lighting process was taking longer than it ought to, and you couldn't figure out that this was due to wind blowing out the flame each time the taper was lit... Technical problems? What sort of "technical problems" might interfere with lighting a candle? The motherboard blew a fuse? The jet engines refused to ignite? The satellite had a delay? I mean, come on.

Look, journalists: I know all this pope stuff is intimidating to non-Catholics. (Hell, it's intimidating to most of us Catholics too.) I understand it can be scary to cover something that you know is governed by rigid rules and represents a rich and sacred tradition. I appreciate your efforts to get things right, or at least not completely wrong, even when you end up using purposefully vague language (e.g., identifying a member of the clergy as "one of the faithful") just to avoid making errors like (oh, for example) "symbolically transubstantiate." You try to get fancy and you might end up looking silly -- like the Daily News, when they printed a photo of the pope incensing the altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral and said he was using an aspergillum. (Duh, it's called a thurible?) But there are some things that we Catholics -- even the pope! -- do just like everyone else. And lighting a candle is one of those things. No complicated technical process involved. Flame + wick – strong breeze = new flame. So...

Oh, you know what, just forget it. He's gone now, so you can go back to your stories about Benedict and his cats. Popes! They're just like us!

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