JP in Rome: Inside the “SalSta”


Nero. Black smoke. The next smoke signal is expected sometime this evening. It could come around the 5 o’clock hour; but, if there is smoke before 7pm Rome time, then that means we have a new pope. Should that happen, I have to book it into the square. Bottom line: We’re on deck, folks. So, keep watch!


The “SalSta” – Vaticanese for the Sala Stampa

At the moment, I’m deep inside the “SalSta” – Vaticanese for the Sala Stampa. Just out the door is the Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Square itself, which is teeming with faithful pilgrims. So, I’m just several feet from where it is all going to happen in just a little while.

The “SalSta” has been closed to most journalists this month. Just a handful of the world’s Vatican watchers are allowed to gather here to do their work. You have to go through a special accrediting process and possess exclusive credentials to get inside this place. A veritable militia of armed guards stands vigil at the door. Aside from some 30 or so journalists, the rest of the five thousand media personnel here in Rome this month have to work out of the Media Center at the Pope Paul VI Hall.

As I write, I am sitting on the floor alongside filing cabinets and banks of news booths for major media outlets like the AP, Reuters, and a handful of others. The small number of media desks here has been claimed. Whoever is able to get into the “SalSta” is here. There is the expectation that something big could happen this afternoon. We’ll see, though. Truth be told, no one knows when there will be white smoke. But, the sense in this room is that we’ll see fumo bianco sooner rather than later. Perhaps, we’ll see it this afternoon or evening; or, perhaps, tomorrow.

Regardless, the Spirit knows. He knows and searches all things. Our task is to get on our knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament and to intercede for the cardinals electing the new pope and the man about to present himself at the central loggia as il nuovo papa – the new pope. We’ll meet him soon enough.



My view of black smoke this morning in St. Peter’s Square

Outside the “SalSta,” 20 and 30-something Catholics file into St. Peter’s Square. Their numbers are impressive. Representing all the corners of the globe and speaking scores of languages, it feels like an impromptu World Youth Day. Among them, Brazilians are making an impressive showing. Wearing their national flags, JP2-Generation Brazilians chant “Scherer! Scherer!” We’ll see if we get another pope from “un paese lontano.”

After black smoke billows out of the Sistina, reporters refocus their attention on the square itself. All around the piazza, reporters interview 20 and 30-something pilgrims. Young Catholics are taking to television, radio, and the new social media, exuding their enthusiasm for their faith and recounting their love of Christ and the Church. For a moment, St. Peter’s Square becomes the world’s largest anchor desk in the service of the new evangelization. And, the JP2 Generation broadcasts the real news of the morning to the four corners of the globe.

In a short while, those same 20 and 30-something pilgrims will quiet their voices in order to listen to Peter. But, for now, their infectious cheerfulness resounds around the piazza. The JP2-Generation has arrived here in Rome. It stands on deck, waiting for Peter.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

John Paul Shimek is a 2003 honors graduate of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire--one of the oldest Benedictine colleges in North America. He holds ecclesiastical degrees from the graduate schools of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Those degrees were awarded to him in the names of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl. His academic specializations include the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Second Vatican Council, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul has provided special counsel to numerous Church leaders, including both the former and current archbishops of Milwaukee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Jerome Listecki. Most recently, he served as a technical theological assistant to Archbishop Listecki during the preparation of a pastoral letter for the Year of Faith. He has been interviewed and he has written on a wide spectrum of religious and public forum issues for numerous media outlets, including CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telemundo, Zenit, the Catholic News Agency, the National Catholic Register, Catholic Exchange, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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