Sister Ann Muriel, events coordinator for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, could not decide where to sit for today's television broadcast, "Prayer for World Peace."
Sit up front in the shrine's chancel, her boss told her yesterday at a staff meeting, "so that your sisters in Florida might see you." Muriel joked, "Okay, and I'll try to look holy."
A few minutes later, Msgr. Michael J. Bransfield asked his deputy if the holy cards had arrived for an expected audience of more than 2,000. They had not, adding one more problem for the staff at the shrine, U.S. host to a worldwide video event mixing hoopla and the holy.
Aired locally at noon on WUSA (Channel 9), the broadcast is being touted by its promoters as the most complicated TV program of all time, involving 18 satellites, 75 cameras, 1,000 technicians and -- the promoters hope -- 1.5 billion viewers, or one-fifth of the world's population. Produced and directed by Tony Verna, father of the instant replay, it is patterned after Verna's production of the 1985 rock concert Live Aid.
For Pope John Paul II, it also will be something of a first -- the first time he has had his own hourlong TV show, which will include recitation of the rosary in five languages and a six-minute message on peace.
Catholic authorities say the pope agreed to take part in the broadcast because he saw it as an opportunity for the church to use television in a meaningful way, something Vatican officials have wanted for some time. And it was offered at no cost to the church, with Bic Corp., the pen maker, helping foot the $2.6 million bill.
Verna proposed using the rosary because its short, repetitive passages would make good TV, according to Paul Dietrich, Saturday Review publisher and Verna's coproducer. The pope agreed, authorities said, because the rosary is one of the church's most universal prayers and because, as a devotion to the Virgin Mary, it was considered a proper way to kick off the Marian Year, a Catholic celebration of the mother of Jesus that begins tomorrow.
But the needs of late-20th century technology did not always blend smoothly yesterday with those who had more spiritual things in mind.
James Silman, an independent TV producer and Verna's point man for the United States, wanted to guarantee that there would be an overflow crowd outside. "It will be a good shot," he told the shrine's liturgy director, William F. Tierney, at midmorning. "And we can expect masses of people outside at all the other locations."
Tierney just looked at Silman. Tierney had been worrying whether families with children, elderly men and women and everyone else who wanted to could get a seat inside the cathedral, and Silman was asking him to cut them off early, to assure good visuals outside.
Tierney, essentially the shrine's stage manager, had a few other concerns about the technology. More than two dozen heavy wires were being run, for example, from cathedral balconies along the marble floors to an outside power truck, and they had to be taped securely so the devoted would not trip.
Electricians in T-shirts had to step gingerly around statues of the Virgin Mary and the graduation practice of several hundred Catholic high school seniors.
It was not exactly like setting up for rock 'n' roll, said one technician: "We talk quieter, we're cleaner, and we sure enough don't swear."
The 20-member shrine staff hosts as many as 200 events a month. Still, staff members were a little nervous as they took their places in a wood-paneled office for yesterday's staff meeting.
"What do you think? Are we going to be all right?" Bransfield asked three times during the hourlong meeting.
His questions continued. Were there enough programs? (Probably not, because 1,000 were printed and more than 2,000 people are expected.) Who was going to tell the congregation when stand during the rosary? (The congregation simply would take its cue from Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey, who will be leading the U.S. ceremonies from the shrine.)
And then, of course, there were the handkerchiefs. It had occurred to the staff that at a certain part in the ceremony, hundreds of thousands of people in other countries would be waving white handkerchiefs, a tradition begun in Fatima, Portugal.
Americans, of course, generally do not carry handkerchiefs. So Kathy Michos, Bransfield's aide, ordered 7,000 tissues, to be distributed by ushers.
"Make sure the ushers instruct people what to do with them," Bransfield said.