My accomodations in the nation's capital were pretty darned swank -- the Grand Hyatt on H Street. You know it's high class when Diet Cokes in the vending machines cost $2.50.
My incredible producer had arranged for me to be one of a handful of reporters to get access inside the National Shrine at the Basilica while Pope Benedict was given a tour.
For all of you Protestants out there, the shrine is the nation's largest Catholic church and it is simply a breathtaking piece of architecture. If you ever find yourself in Washington, you should make a point to visit the Basilica.
Well --- security is very --- secure --- around the pope. The press corps was forced to undergo intense screening, a visit by bomb sniffing dogs, security sweeps, and we had a Secret Service escort from the media hotel to the Basilica. And that's just for the press (and everybody knows that we're the folks that are expendible). I can only imagine what it's like for his inner circle.
The 15 minute journey to the Basilica lasted about two hours. We had to wait outside the Westin Hotel for 90 minutes --- before we underwent the screenings. The agents assured us it would not interfere in any future endeavors to have offspring.
I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover an old acquaintance -- Julia Duin. She's the religion editor at the Washington Times -- and one of the finest religion writers in the nation. I had someone snap a photograph of us outside the hotel.
Once we got on the bus --- and once we got on -- we could not get off. An agent made sure of that. And since they have guns --- well -- you know the drill. I'm beginning to rethink that whole thing about the pen being mightier than the sword.
The bus ride was pretty intense --- we had an agent on board and two police cars clearing the path --- sirens blaring, horns honking -- not a bad way to cut through rush hour traffic.
Once at the Basilica, we were led through the same entrance the pope would use --- and told to sit in the western side of the upper church. We were about twenty yards from the pope -- and that's where we stayed until his speech to the bishops had ended.
I was doing live shots on a marble floor in front of a shrine to the Mother Mary. Now, as a Southern Baptist, I wasn't too sure about that. I mean, I sure didn't want to spark some sort of international incident. It wouldn't look good on my annual review. A reporter from Catholic News Service assured me I was not breaking any sort of religious edicts. I was relieved!
Of course, had there been an issue, I would've just blamed it on my Baptist upbringing -- we're low church -- you know.