Although the media focused on some of the moments when the Pope’s security team appeared overwhelmed during the World Youth Day, one of the Vatican press office’s coordinators says just one change was made to the schedule and everything else that happened was foreseen.
“In fact, Pope Francis never changed the schedule. He just added the appointment with the Argentineans, which was set in the cathedral of Rio de Janeiro,” Salvatore Scolozzi told CNA July 31.
Scolozzi is one of the members of the coordinating team for the Vatican Accredited Media Personnel, known in the Holy See’s press office by the acronym VAMP.
For Pope Francis’ first international trip, that group consisted of almost 70 journalists who were embedded on the papal plane and given up-close access to the events in Rio. The list of media outlets admitted to the VAMP group represented the various languages and countries of the world.
From Scolozzi’s point of view as a media personnel coordinator, Pope Francis’ trip to Rio de Janeiro went off without a hitch.
“Everything worked perfectly,” he said.
Scolozzi arrived in Brazil with the coordinating team several days before the Pope landed, so that he could “pave the way” for a smooth visit.
He explained that the job of the Vatican coordinating team is to serve as “a mediator between the VAMPs and the authorities of each place the Pope will be visiting.”
Practically speaking, that means he and his coworkers engage in “a lot of diplomacy, explaining that the journalists will not bother any ceremony they will attend to, and on the other hand, they will be as close as they can to events without interfering, being seen, or making any noise.”
All of the provisions made to accommodate the press corps are plotted out “months before the papal trip,” Scolozzi explained.
At the helm of the Vatican media planning team is Vik van Brantegem, assistant of the Director of the Holy See Press Office, who serves as its general coordinator.
“He is a clear, stick-to-the-point and extremely precise leader,” said Scolozzi.
“He has a great amount of experience, since he has been serving the Holy See for 30 years and has worked in logistics and security for the media in all the World Youth Days since the Santiago de Compostela event in 1989.”
In Scolozzi’s opinion, there was only one critical moment during the Pope’s trip.
As the Holy Father traveled in a Fiat Idea between the airport and the Presidential Palace of Guanabara on July 22, crowds of pilgrims stopped his car and tried to touch the Pope and greet him.
According to Scolozzi, “obviously members of Gendarmes Corps were worried,” since there were only about 10 of them guarding the Pope and trying to restrain the enthusiastic crowd.
Their concerns were shared with the press and headlines began appearing about the Pope’s security being threatened.
But the traffic jam did not worry Scolozzi and his fellow planners.
In his view, “everything could be foreseen” since it was known that “Rio de Janeiro’s urban structure did not permit the Pope’s convoy to avoid crowds at crossroads,” and “the Pope also wished to be as close as he could to people.”
The City of Rio de Janeiro was aware of this problem, he noted, asserting that the focus should be on “how they well managed the problems, because there were no problems with the crowd since the very first day.”
The throngs of excited young people were also part of the experience for the journalists embedded with the papal delegation.
The reporters “often had to pass through the crowd,” Scolozzi recalled, pointing to the Pope’s July 23 visit with his fellow Argentineans as an example.
The press pack “wanted to wait for the end of the speech of the Pope in Varginha, and so they moved right after the end of the meeting,” he said.
That meant the media bus got struck in the middle of the crowd and they had to walk on foot to the cathedral, where the Pope’s meeting with Argentinean youth was going to take place.
Nevertheless, Scolozzi maintained, “there was not more risk than in any other papal trip” and “everything was managed in tranquility.”
Pope Francis’ choice not to use the so-called armored popemobile was also not a challenge for his security team, the Vatican coordinator asserted.
In fact, he pointed out, “the windows of popemobile are always open” so that “all the Popes can embrace children and catch objects people hand to them along the way.”
“The Brazilian security did an excellent job, and it is evident since nothing happened,” he maintained.
“In the press conference he held in the flight back to Rome,” Scolozzi concluded, “Pope Francis told journalists that ‘there can always be a fool’ in the crowd, but that he is a fool, too, and that he trusted people.
"But I can assume that all the Popes have been crazy in this way in the past, since we had to face the same matters, even though each Pope has his own personality and his own way to approach to people.”