An estimated crowed of a million and a half people jammed into St. Peter's Square this past weekend for the beatification of Pope John Paul II -- a visual tribute to the sustained popularity of the late pontiff. And the visual tribute is fitting, because John Paul was the first pope to fully embrace television.
In a column on the beatification in The Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten questions what lies at the heart of that popularity. He wonders "how well this approving crowd listened to or read what John Paul II preached and wrote," or if they were -- instead -- drawn in by the pagentry and show of his papacy.
It's a question that followed John Paul II throughout his long reign: if the medium is indeed the message, could the pope's message -- often at odds with technology and modernity -- cut through the TV-ready imagery?
Back in 1987, I wrote a magazine piece profiling John Paul's then-new media team, headed by a TV-saavy archbishop from Philadelphia, John Foley. Along with his ex-actor-boss, Foley crafted irresistable images of a charistmatic leader.