Oct 19, 2012

"All Star" Saint Weekend Begins for Catholics in Rome

New saints are definitely a good news story for the Catholic Church globally. This weekend in Rome, there will be a roster of seven new "heroes of faith" canonized as part of ceremonies taking place at the Vatican. That means a whole lot of good news.

I have the privilege to be present for this historic ceremony along with photographer and graphic designer Emanuel Pires. People often say, "sounds like so much fun to be going to Rome." Well it's always a blessing to be in this historic city of faith. (actually country if we're really being specific as within the pillars of St. Peter's, you'll find the world's smallest country, the Vatican).

However, those who've heard about our past experiences to Rome and other historic occasions in the life of the church know that it's all about work, some of the longest days we'll have this year. (this blog entry comes after about 36 hours without any shut eye courtesy a 8 hr 45 minute overnight flight).

To get a sense of the buildup for this historic event, the Office of Public Relations and Communications has been working for months on the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - we're not involved in the ceremonies at the Vatican or in organizing airplanes of pilgrims to head over. Instead, we try to inspire the media to take an interest in the story, to provide informed spokespersons who can speak to the life of Kateri, her impact especially on the First Nations community in our country and to celebrate the life of this holy woman, the first aboriginal female saint in North America.

To give you a bit of an insider's view, my colleague Bill Steinburg has been spearheading efforts back in Toronto over the last several months, working with communications colleague Erica Zlomislic who oversees media relations for the English Jesuits of Upper Canada. Bill and Erica have liaised with various groups - folks like the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, aboriginal communities planning local events or heading overseas, schools with Blessed Kateri's namesake in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and York Catholic District School Board as well as historians, archivists and others with a passion for the soon to be saint.

When trying to tell a complex story about how a saint is created, sharing the life of Kateri and trying to highlight the impact of the occasion to the secular press is no easy task. Bill and Erica have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to contact reporters, resulting in great stories already this week in the Toronto Star, CBC and CTV to name just a few. The momentum is building and the hope is that there will be additional coverage this weekend, both locally and overseas in Rome.

That's where we come in - my job is essentially to serve as gopher, to track down pilgrims as requests come in, to help track down those interesting spokespeople in a crowd of 250,000, to see if we can bring the experience of Rome back to Canada.

Emanuel will document the experience through photos and videos, some of which may be used by the media in their own stories, shared on our official twitter and facebook feeds as well as our tumblr account. Of course, our social media specialist Denise Torres has already been tweeting background articles and information on Kateri as well as posting information on our Facebook page. Be sure to keep an eye on them.

Few media outlets will send reporters over to Rome to cover the story so we're essentially trying to make their job that much easier. We've got the ability to do SKYPE interviews, phone calls and will certainly be prepared for any print journalists wanting to speak with pilgrims. The easier we make it for them to cover the story, offering credible spokespeople in the middle of the news story as well as back at home in Canada, the more likely the media outlet is to run a story.

Of course, we are also working very closely with the team at Salt + Light Catholic Television. Kudos to them for their tireless efforts in preparing to bring this story to life in our country and around the world. As part of the Saturday evening prayer service at St. John Lateran in Rome, those attending will have a chance to screen S+L's new documentary, "In Her Footsteps, the Story of Kateri Tekakwitha".

In fact, Emanuel and I transported the "hot off the press" documentary in our luggage, with specific instructions to split copies between luggage and our carry on bags just in case we lost luggage along the way. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, will preside at the prayer service, which will bring together up to 1,500 Canadians in addition to many Americans and most importantly, thousands of members of the aboriginal community for this "night before Christmas" prayer service.

So that gives you a bit of a behind the scenes experience. If it all works out the way we envision, you really won't see our names quoted in the paper or faces on any tv screens. Our hope is to have the aboriginal community front and centre as Kateri's canonization is really a tribute to their journey, a special moment of pride for the rich history of the contribution of the native people of Canada and the United States.

Of course, Kateri is not the only new saint as of Sunday. There are six others that will go from Blessed to Saint including an American nun from New York who spent much of her life in Hawaii caring for those with leprosy, the second ever saint of Filipino heritage as well as a lay German woman who had dreams of serving as a missionary but instead embraced the illness that would restrict this dream from becoming reality. The new saints lived over a 300 year range, with the oldest like Kateri living in the late 1600's with the most recent saint called home to God in 1925.

On Friday afternoon in Rome, there is already a palpable buzz as delegations from around the world begin to gather. All of this taking place in the midst of the Synod on the New Evangelization, whose participants will break briefly over the weekend to participate in the canonization ceremonies.

We will have 19 Canadian bishops present in Rome, including our own Cardinal, Thomas Collins, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops President, Archbishop Richard Smith and other Ontario bishops including Archbishop Prendergast (Ottawa) and Bishop Crosby (Hamilton) to name just a few. In addition to his duties as english media liaison for the Synod on the New Evangelization, Fr. Tom Rosica will also be coordinating media relations for the Canadian Bishops this weekend.

If you're looking for your spiritual fix this weekend, Rome's cup overfloweth. That said, consider taking part in the celebrations in many cities throughout the country planning activities. The Martyrs' Shrine will most certainly be a focal point - you can find all sorts of info on the life of Blessed Kateri by visiting our special website here

Please pray for all those pilgrims who have made their way to Rome, many for the first time. Thursday was a long travel day for all involved. May this weekend be filled with many blessings and serve as a renewal of faith for the countries connected to these holy men and women as well as our global family of faith.

There's always time to sleep next week - this is just one of those weekends you want to be part of every blessed moment....

Neil MacCarthy is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Location:Rome, Italy

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