Planning a Papal Visit

Just as mid-December rolled around and I started thinking about slowing down for family time, Christmas shopping and holiday parties… I received a cryptic text from an acquaintance. The text said, “Can you talk? It’s big. Confidential.”

That text kicked off a two month project that culminated this week in the JHL Austin Best Events team coordinating the US side of Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez. Having worked with secret service and with international dignitaries in the past, I was well versed on what needed to happen and who would need to be involved. I was not as well versed in the language of the Catholic Church but I knew how to pull together the right team to make sure each nuance was attended to appropriately. I always say that our events team has done it all – and now, that really is the case! We have now done it all. And our communications team jumped in creating an event website, Facebook, hashtags and coordinating all messages in two languages and across two nations, multiple government entities, the Catholic Church, the El Paso community… advertising, radio talking points, lions and tigers and bears – oh my!

The details and logistics for any event take careful planning and coordination. But, this event took that to a new level. To start, most communities have 12-18 months to plan a Papal visit. We had 10 weeks. And we needed to find a way to unite this region for the event though the border and laws of two countries had to be respected. For the first time in history, our team was able to secure agreement from the Vatican, the Mexican government and the FCC to allow for two way simulcast of the Mass in Juarez. That means that for the first time ever, the Pope was able to speak directly to – and see and hear – two different audiences simultaneously. The group gathered at the Sun Bowl in El Paso was offered a blessing by Pope Francis and he could hear their chill-inspiring chant of love and support directly. We used technology to unite two nations, one faith.

The closing of Pope Francis' homily from the Holy Mass in Ciudad Juárez:

“I wish to take this opportunity to salute from here our dear brothers and sisters who are with us simultaneously across the border, especially those who have gathered at the stadium of the University of El Paso, known as the Sun Bowl, under the leadership of Bishop Mark Seitz. With the help of technology, we can pray, sing and celebrate together the merciful love that God gives us, and no border can prevent us from sharing [this love]. Thank you, brothers and sisters in El Paso, for helping us become one family in the same Christian community.”

The Austin Best Events team at JHL always brings big idea thinking and focused execution. We don’t let challenges such as a language barrier, security, tight timelines… inhibit a great idea. We unite all parties and execute. You can trust our team to do the heavy lifting and allow your team to stay focused on their day job.

Being a part of the Pope Francis visit was an honor. I have learned to keep my mind open to new and unexpected opportunities. When given the chance, we will jump in the deep end and make big things happen. The JHL team welcomes the opportunity to take on new projects and events and we leave El Paso reinvigorated and ready to go!

El Paso.JPG