Pope Used Media to His Advantage

ByABC News
April 2, 2005, 9:53 AM

April 2, 2005 — -- Pope John Paul II became a truly global figure, in part, because he knew how best to use the media -- whether it was television, radio or the Internet.

In Poland, Mexico or America, wherever Pope John Paul II went, it became a media event, with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding, all the hype of a Super Bowl, all the uproar of a rock concert.

The combination of theology and technology made him the most media-savvy pope in history.

Rather than railing against the press, as many public figures do, the pope used the media to deliver his message.

John Paul II became pope in 1978, the same year instant global television first became available.

"Other popes, of course, in the past have used different kinds of communications," said Wilton Wynn, the former Rome bureau chief at Time magazine. "But this man is the first who fully understands that the church has a great opportunity here to reach the entire world by using the mass media."

An estimated 1 billion people watched John Paul in 1987 when 23 satellites linked him to 16 countries in what was called "A Prayer for World Peace."

Later that year, he took center stage at a Hollywood theater, holding a conversation via satellite with thousands of young Catholics in four cities.

This pope also came out with a music video, featuring him singing and reciting psalms and the Gospels. He also recorded the rosary.

He published best-selling books, and during John Paul's papacy, the Vatican went online, getting its own Web address.

But John Paul went much further. While on his way to the Dominican Republic in 1979 -- his first journey abroad -- the pope stunned the Vatican press corps by actually answering reporters' questions.

In 1981, ABC News' Bill Blakemore asked the pope: "After two years, are you still going to be traveling so much?"