It’s a sunlit, sizzling hot day in Rome, and the streets around the Vatican throng with John Paul II disciples; their faces are bathed in sun, and the look of sunburnt mirth and sheer joy would thaw the heart of the hardest sceptic of Catholicism. The atmosphere is elation, as though St Peter’s Square were hosting a family reunion where over one million who had come to celebrate the memory of their father.
I squint at every corner, looking for the building where the Blogmeet will be held. I’m asking myself why I wore my best; a black suit with a tailored lace and satin camisole; I’m a cold Hibernian but melting in the heat. I’m an ex convent schoolgirl from West Cork, now this ex-con is trying to break into the Vatican… 30 minutes later… Please St Anthony, help me find the building. St Anthony, you got me a flight and a place to stay, please don’t let me return to London saying that I missed the Blogmeet because I couldn’t find the location… Then I see Fr Luigi, and ask him if he is going to the meeting. He escorts me to the building.
From the very first sight inside-the-Blogmeet, this was a global meeting of minds; bloggers from all over the world were busily setting up their equipment and getting headphones to hear the translations. But a hitch nearly prevented me from liveblogging; my adaptor wouldn’t fit in the plug! I asked a priest who was busily organising the Blogmeet, ‘may I ask I you speak English, I need help with my adaptor…’ And Monsignor Paul Tighe answered in a Navan accent, ‘oh I speak English.’ Mgr Paul is a top media advisor and a credit to Ireland – I didn’t know he was Irish because he was speaking fluent Italian, and when I first saw him I thought he was an extraordinarily pale Italian.
Every effort was made for synchronisation – meaning that American Papist who was sitting to my right and Francesco Diani to my left were listening to translations on headphones and we heard the exact same message simultaneously. There were cynical suggestions before the Blogmeet that it could have been done totally online – as in bloggers staying in their home countries and communing online with the Vatican. The first few minutes of getting settled-in and getting to know those around me, made redundant this idea, I couldn’t have shaken Thomas Peters or Francesco’s hand over the net.
There was a slightly experimental quality to the meeting – the bloggers were free to blog whatever they wanted about the meeting. The meeting itself was proof that while the Vatican is very interested in working with bloggers, that even while the bloggers are on Vatican grounds, it does not necessarily want to control bloggers. Others in the Blogmeet would disagree with me! But the fact is that there was no censorious guidelines about what we could or could not blog. And at 4pm we were off, with Richard Rouse being emphatic that it was not strictly for Catholic bloggers. A vibrant theme of the meeting was how the Holy See can ‘listen’ to bloggers, and how, if the bloggers wish, there can be a symbiotic, reciprocal relationship.To query why the Vatican has lavished time on bloggers is to ponder the influence of blogs. And implicitly, blogging is a return to localism. Clusters of Bloggers are writing from their perches in their parishes/neighbourhoods and giving distinctive views from their pews. The power of expression has been returned to local people who blog and may give their message to an international audience.