I worked with Tony Verna several times back in my MSM days. Tony is the inventor of the instant replay and one of the people behind Live Aid. I learned more about television from Tony than just about anyone else. I remembered Tony telling me an interesting account of his work with the Pope. I remember thinking about the impact of mediatizing the Pope when I heard the story. I decided to email Tony and ask him to share a story about his role in mediatizing the Pope.
Tony VernaApril 2,2005
Thank you for contacting me regarding my thoughts about the passing of the Holy Father, John Paul II.
As you may recall, in 1986, I created “Prayer For World Peace,” a one-hour live TV broadcast for Pope John Paul II that I also produced and directed. The program was viewed by a billion people worldwide.
I had directed Live Aid and Sport Aid for Bob Geldof and that made me cocky enough to present the Vatican with the largest satellite telecast of the time.
My idea was to have the Pope lead a worldwide congregation of worshippers on five continents in the rosary, a devotional prayer, where he could alternate the first part of the prayer in one of several languages… and then cut live to that part of the world for their response…
e.g. Paris or Dakar for French, Knock or Calcutta for English, Lisbon or Rio for Portuguese, Mexico City or Madrid for Spanish, and Frankfurt or Marizell for German.
I had worked with Mother Teresa and knew her well enough to ask (impose on) her to do an inspirational intro (from were she was visiting her nuns in Czestochowa, Poland) that would lead to the live presentation from Rome. Mother Teresa was a wonderful woman whom I can’t say enough about.
My reputation was good in Europe due to the Geldof projects plus I had already written 2 of my books that the American communications archbishops had read.
They were anxious to hear my idea even though they warned me that the Pope didn’t do programs other people have created.
Undeterred I moved on, and finally met with the Pope in his private chapel. My wife, Carol, was a devout Lutheran and she was ready to bolt out of the chapel at the sight of the Pope. I calmed her down and when the Pope came over to us, he was very attentive and cordial. He held our hands and gave me his blessing to proceed with my idea.
I was hoping for such, since I knew he was a communications Pope and that he knew the power of the medium.
Later, I addressed the College of Cardinals as a formality and then proceeded.
The live one-hour was done for Global Media Ltd and was possible in part by a grant from BIC. The budget was high at 2 million due to the satellite pickups in 16 locations on 5 continents, Luzan, Argentina; Marizell, Austria; Rio, Brazil; Quebec, Canada; Lourdes, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Bombay, India; Guadalupe, Mexico; Caacupe, Paraguay; Manila, Philippines; Fatima, Portugal; Dakar, Senegal; Zaragoza, Spain; Czestochowa, Poland; Knock, Ireland; and in the United States, Washington DC. All of which was cited and documented on the July 8, 1987 Congressional Record of the House of Representatives
In addition to the hundred plus cameras I had stationed around the globe, I arranged for the congregations (live on monitors) to greet the Holy Father, before and after reciting the rosary with him.
Then the problems began. The religious big shots told me I couldn’t place monitors by the Pope. I objected and told them that the Pope should decide. The next morning the Pope gave me his permission, overruling his big shots.
The insurance company (to cover the $2m) said that the Pope and I both had to take a physical. I took the physical and explained that the Pope wouldn’t. They backed down
Next, RAI television (a bunch of men in suits) said I couldn’t do the pickup from the Vatican. They claimed I was a one-timer and not welcomed. I left Rome determined not to give up.
So…I directed the show from London, England (thanks to the EBU) with the incoming feeds coming to me live from Rome. Strange but true.
The show went off without a hitch. The VCR and DVD are still available.
Another problem was that the church worked in centuries so back in ’86 I gave the Pope his first fax machine…as can be attested to by Archbishop John P. Foley.
Before leaving for Rome to do the show I stopped by Washington DC and had dinner with David Brinkley and others curious on how I could pull off such a complex live telecast.
I felt quite honored by the attention.
As I mentioned, a billion people saw the show, and afterwards the Pope invited my wife, and I back to the Vatican to thank us personally.
It was a delightful visit.
Then another strange thing happened.
After blessing us the Pope moved away but suddenly he backed up to give my wife a second blessing.
Joi, my wife converted to Catholicism but I think the Pope gave her a second blessing because she has to put up with someone like me.
That’s my recollection…… in a jumble.