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 CNS Story:

FOLEY-CHRISTMAS Dec-2-2009 (390 words) xxxi

Cardinal Foley decides to step down as Vatican's 'voice of Christmas'

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After 25 years doing the English-language commentary for the pope's Christmas midnight Mass, U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley is stepping away from the microphone and hanging up the headphones.

"I guess I'm truly the Ghost of Christmas Past now," he told Vatican Radio Nov. 24.

The cardinal, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, was first asked by the U.S. television network NBC to do the broadcast in 1984. He continued guiding U.S. audiences through the service and, eventually, other media outlets began getting his commentary as well.

His voice was heard in the Philippines, Nigeria, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana and occasionally some Scandinavian countries, he told Catholic News Service Dec. 2.

"For a while, the Australians would not take me because I had an American accent," he said, but eventually his commentaries were broadcast there as well.

Cardinal Foley noted that his absence is not the biggest change broadcasters and viewers will notice with Pope Benedict's Christmas Eve Mass this year. The Vatican announced in late November that the pope would begin his "midnight" Mass at 10 p.m. Rome time.

Looking back on 25 years of midnight commentary, the cardinal said, "It was quite an honor and a thrill to bring so many people around the world together in prayer."

Doing the commentary was not a matter of taking a cushy, front-row seat in St. Peter's Basilica and telling people what was happening. In fact, during the Mass the cardinal wasn't in the basilica at all.

The various commentators watch a closed-circuit video feed of the Mass from the Braccio Carlo Magno, an unheated exhibition space at the end of the colonnade in St. Peter's Square. But Cardinal Foley, who trained as a journalist and for years edited the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Catholic newspaper, would go into the basilica before Mass and find any English-speakers who were serving, reading or receiving Communion from the pope. He'd share their names and stories with viewers during the broadcast.

Instead of doing the commentary this year, the 74-year-old cardinal plans to spend Christmas in Philadelphia, he said.

"I thought 25 years was a good time to round it out," Cardinal Foley said.

As he told Vatican Radio, and repeated to CNS, "It's better to be able to walk away than to be carried away from the job."


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