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Notre Dame faculty offers commentary and analysis during papal visit

| Tuesday, September 22, 2015

As the eyes of the world turn to the U.S. for Pope Francis’s first trip to the country, Notre Dame faculty will also be in the spotlight. During the papal visit, several faculty members will offer commentary and analysis for NBC, MSNBC and CBS television networks.

According to a University press release, University President Fr. John Jenkins will appear on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” to offer commentary and analysis about the pope’s visit, tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. Jenkins will also attend the pope’s welcoming ceremony at the White House, concelebrate with Francis the canonization mass of Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and attend the pope’s address to Congress, the press release stated.

Professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings will provide coverage for NBC and MSNBC. Cummings is an associate professor of American studies and the William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.

“This [papal visit] is a chance to think about what the pope means to American Catholics and what the pope meant to American Catholics over the course of history,” Cummings said.

Cummings will first broadcast from NBC studios in New York, offering commentary while the pope is in Cuba and travels to America. Then she will broadcast live from the rooftop over Saint Paul’s Cathedral in New York City before traveling to Philadelphia to offer live coverage during the pope’s visit there.

Cummings said she will offer historical perspectives on the different places Francis is visiting, along with comparisons between Pope Francis’ visit and prior papal visits. She is also currently writing a book on the canonizations of American saints and will offer analysis on the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra.

Cummings said she began to offer national commentary two-and-a-half years ago, when Anne Thompson, Notre Dame graduate and NBC News Chief Environmental Affairs correspondent, wanted a woman to comment on Pope Benedict’s resignation. Cummings said she was contacted by Thompson, a University trustee, to offer commentary on that issue and thus began her career as a television commentator.

Cummings said her current coverage, which will have her away from campus for a week, is the longest consecutive time she has offered commentary for a major news network.

“Notre Dame is the most prominent Catholic university in the United States. We, as a university, grapple with the questions that most interest the pope, like what it means to be a Catholic today. Notre Dame is a place where we’ve been asking those questions since we were founded in 1842,” Cummings said. “Fr. Ted Hesburgh used to say that Notre Dame is ‘the place where the church does it’s thinking,’ so it would make sense that two of the three major television networks are featuring Notre Dame faculty during the papal visit.”

Cummings is not the only member of Notre Dame’s teaching faculty slated to appear on television during the papal visit. Professor Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the theology department, is CBS’s Papal News Commentator, offering commentary across the network. Moss is scheduled to appear on several CBS News shows, including “CBS This Morning” and “CBS Evening News,” as well as CBS Radio and CBSN, the 24-hour live streaming news service, she said in an email.

“I tend to approach Francis’ words from the perspective of a Biblical scholar and a historian. I try to understand how he grounds his ideas biblically and doctrinally and also how to think about him in comparison to his predecessors and contemporaries,” Moss said.

Moss said her commentary will include a mix of theology, history, politics and public affairs.

“Generally, we spend our time analyzing about the significance and meaning of what Pope Francis has said so far. But the schedule is only a guide, and we don’t know exactly what he will say or do,” she said. “On Sunday night, he started going off-script in the cathedral in Havana. It was pretty exciting, and we had to scramble to translate what he was saying and decide what to say about it.”

Moss said she began doing news coverage for CBS when Pope Benedict resigned, after a booker for “CBS This Morning” saw one of her documentaries and asked her to come on the show. Since then, she has made regular appearances on CNN, Fox and NBC but spends most of her time at CBS.

“When they called and asked me to be their Papal News Commentator, it was a natural fit and something I was very excited about,” Moss wrote. “I think teaching at a Catholic university makes me aware of the expectations and excitement surrounding the Pope’s visit and conscious of the responsibility I have as a representative of Notre Dame.”


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