Students Cover Pope’s Philadelphia Visit for Religion News Service

Their Stories Were Published in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and Other News Outlets

By Annie Rees

Columbia, Mo. (Dec. 1, 2015) — For the first time in the Missouri School of Journalism’s history, students enrolled in the Religion News Reporting course attended and covered a U.S. visit by the pope.

Anne Marie Hankins
Senior Anne Marie Hankins interviews a man protesting the pope’s visit to Philadelphia.

The students covered Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia Sept. 25-27, as part of a reporting team from Religion News Service (RNS), the nation’s only non-sectarian organization that provides coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas. From Oct. 15-19, the students also covered the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City.

In both of these trips, students wrote pieces for RNS, a wire service that produces stories that can be picked up by any news organization. Student got clips from the event and had stories published by additional outlets, including the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Deseret News and Boston Globe.

“There’s really nothing like it anywhere in the world in terms of media attention and public excitement,” said Professor Debra Mason of the singularity of the Pope’s visit. Mason directs Religion Newswriters Foundation, which owns RNS.

Mason began planning the trip the students would take as soon as the pope’s visit was confirmed in spring. In July, she set about securing credentials for participants, which included students in her course and other students: Madi Alexander, Anne Marie Hankins, Alex Jacobi, Rose McManus, Taylor Nakagawa and Corie Wilkins.

Anne Marie Hankins
Anne Marie Hankins visits with a man from Nigeria who attended the public mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

Gaining Accredited Media Press Access identification for the papal tour is required as part of the U.S. Secret Service background check.

“It was unlike anything else I’d been to,” Alexander said. “No foreign dignitary gets a welcome like the pope. No one gets more than a million people to greet you.”

Students worked on pitching, developing and executing pieces with Mason and Kimberly Winston, a national RNS reporter. Many also took photographs and shot multimedia. All used social media to report the event.

Mason said the type of reporting was typical for a mid-size newsroom.

“When you have these extraordinary events, you have to take advantage of them,” Mason said. The trip was funded with support from the Center on Religion and the Professions, which Mason directs.

Four students also attended the Parliament of World Religions Oct. 15-19 in Salt Lake City, including senior Abigail Coursen, who was not able to travel to the papal trip.

The Parliament, held every five years, is the world’s largest interfaith gathering and drew about 10,000 attendees from dozens of faith traditions. The Dahli Lama, Tibbetan Buddhism’s leader, was scheduled to speak at the Parliament but was advised to cancel the visit by physicians after he was hospitalized for exhaustion in September.

Taylor Nakagawa
Senior Taylor Nakagawa sets up a shot while covering the pope’s visit to Philadelphia for the Religion News Service.

Mason’s course, Religion Reporting and Writing, is generally offered once a year, primarily in spring.

Featured Reporting:

Madi Alexander, Graduate Student

It Takes More Than Two to Tango For Pope Francis
Washington Post.

Hundreds Turned Away From Only Session on Gays at Catholic Meeting
Huffington Post. Photos by Alexander. Story by Kimberly Winston.

Anne-Marie Hankins, Senior

Transgender Latina Tells Her Story at Philadelphia Workshop
Washington Post. Video by Taylor Nakagawa.

Who Works Social Media for the Pope? A Couple of Americans.
Washington Post.

Pope Francis Brings Rome to Philly in ‘Vatican Splendors’ Exhibit
Washington Post.

On Tap at Philly’s Joints, Papal Brews
Washington Post. Co-byline with Kimberly Winston.

Corie Wilkins
Senior Corie Wilkins, left, takes notes for a story while senior Taylor Nakagawa adjusts his camera.

Alex Jacobi, Graduate Student

Police Move Homeless Off Philadelphia Streets Ahead of Pope Francis’ Mass
Washington Post and Huffington Post.

LGBT Catholics Tell Their Story in Philadelphia Play
Washington Post. Video by Taylor Nakagawa.

Rose McManus, Senior

Iconic ‘POPE’ Cover Moves Magazines in Philly
Washington Post.

Pope Francis Forever Grins Over Philadelphia’s ‘Gayborhood’
Washington Post.

Taylor Nakagawa, Senior

For Sex Abuse Victims in Philly, Pope’s Visit Means a Difficult Week
Washington Post. Co-byline with Corie Wilkins.

Corie Wilkins, Senior

Inspired by Pope Francis, 360 Volunteers Minister to Homeless People
Washington Post.

For Sex Abuse Victims in Philly, Pope’s Visit Means a Difficult Week
Washington Post. Co-byline with Taylor Nakagawa.

Updated: September 14, 2020

Related Stories

Expand All Collapse All