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VATICAN LETTER Mar-24-2005 (700 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

For ailing pope, a picture is worth a thousand words, Jesuit says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although Pope John Paul II had not spoken publicly for 10 days, the Jesuit in charge of both the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio programming said the pope has not changed his primary way of communicating with people.

While the pope's tendency toward silence after undergoing a tracheotomy Feb. 24 has been a blow to Vatican Radio, Pope John Paul has not hidden from the Vatican television cameras, said Father Federico Lombardi.

Even when his masterly use of language and his actor's skill with his voice were on full display, Pope John Paul communicated most by seeing and being seen, Father Lombardi said March 22 at the presentation of a new 54-minute documentary on the pope.

"John Paul II: The Untold Story" includes dozens of quick clips, most of them gleaned from Vatican television archives, and only the original sound of the pope, the crowds or local television journalists commenting as they watched the pope go by.

The documentary's lack of a story line does not bother Father Lombardi at all.

"This is a pontificate that for most people has been communicated through the eyes -- also through the ears, but not primarily. But now that his voice has become weaker, the 'eyes' become predominant in people's relationship with this pope and this pontificate," the Jesuit said.

The makers of the documentary had thousands and thousands of hours of film to sort through and choose from, confirming the fact "that this is the first pontificate in which television was the dominant medium," Father Lombardi said.

"There is an almost infinite number of images which can be reflected upon," he said.

All that footage of the pope is not simply the result of television's pervasive presence in the modern world, the Jesuit said. It reflects a papal choice.

The pope has wanted to be seen, he said, and not just when he was young and energetic.

"The pope has let himself be seen with extreme naturalness, showing God and the world who he is," Father Lombardi said.

Pope John Paul does not hide -- he did not hide when he was in the hospital and has not hidden since returning to the Vatican, he said.

"He is passing this stage of his pontificate, this season of his life under the eyes of everyone with great naturalness, but also with a great sense of freedom," Father Lombardi said.

"He is what he is and does not hide it," he said.

While the Vatican television cameras avoid staying on the pope for long periods if he is obviously suffering, "the willingness of the pope to show himself is still beyond what would be common for others," the priest said.

Father Lombardi described the Vatican's video archive as a primer on "the dialogue of gazes."

"There are people watching the pope and the pope watching people," he said.

The pope's gaze locks on visiting heads of state, a child who managed to break through security and run up for a hug, swaying crowds of young people and middle-aged women kneeling in prayer.

The documentation of the dialogue was not interrupted even while the pope was in the hospital in March, but it became more intense March 13 when he was released, Father Lombardi said.

Pope John Paul agreed to allow a Vatican television camera operator to ride with him back to the Vatican, filming over the pope's shoulder as he waved to the crowds lining the streets of Rome.

Father Lombardi, who is a regular member of the papal entourage when Pope John Paul travels abroad, said he has ridden hundreds of miles in motorcades down roads lined with people watching the pope.

"It is a very powerful experience," he said. "Smiles and tears are the most common reactions: tears of emotion and smiles that are an expression of joy and celebration.

"The pope sees them and he reflects the message of hope he brings in response to their deep longing," he said.

"Very few people in the world have brought so much joy to so many people just by driving past," Father Lombardi said.


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