Producing the Pope

An up-close and personal experience of Pope Benedict's visit from a Jewish woman's perspective

In the eighteen months since the launch of Sirius Satellite Radio’s Catholic Channel, Robyn Gould has certainly seen the Catholic Church from more angles than most people ever will in their lifetimes. As the producer of “The BustedHalo Show” with Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, Gould is in charge of booking guests and planning a three hour show (7-10PM EST) every Monday to Friday night.

During her tenure, the thirty-something has dealt with guests ranging from Deepak Chopra to Cardinals visiting from the Vatican. In addition to her behind-the-scenes duties, Gould plays a major on-air role as a sidekick to Fr. Dave, bringing her perspective as a Jewish woman to the show’s lively discussion of faith, culture and current events.

Following the whirlwind of activity surrounding the show’s coverage of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States, Gould reflected on her surprisingly personal reaction to the Pope’s time in Washington DC and New York City.

BustedHalo (BH): Last week during the papal visit, you and the rest of your colleagues on the Catholic Channel at Sirius were at the center of a number of events. What was that like for you both personally and as a producer?

Robyn Gould (RG): Well the pope’s visit started out as just an event for me—a very Catholic event. It wasn’t really something that I had much background about and honestly, really didn’t know what to expect, other than what I’d heard, about the Pope. Things like his nickname being God’s Rottweiler or that he was a more traditional Pope, kind of bringing back older traditions. I expected him to be much more rigid, not nearly as human and personal as he turned out to be. Honestly, it was a Catholic event for me at the beginning and that’s how I viewed it. But as the visit progressed and as I got to know more about him as a Pope and more about the itinerary and what was going on, it really became much more personal for me. It went from being a Catholic event to being a human event—an interfaith kind of event. Pope Benedict really is a peaceful warrior in many ways and brought a lot of people from many different faiths together. I think he really ignited a lot of passion in people across this country and brought people together in a positive way for the first time in a long time. He’s the first person I feel we can look at as a positive role model for the world. It was an exciting event, it was great to be a part of it. All of us at Sirius were on the front lines and got to be involved in things; being next to a huge group of media from all over the world was truly amazing.

BH: What is it like being a Jewish woman working for the Catholic channel? How has it affected your own perceptions of religion and faith?

I certainly follow my own faith and spirituality, but I’m not Catholic. I didn’t grow up Catholic and I might not identify with a lot of the Catholic traditions and things like that but I certainly have respect for it and have grown to have more respect for it in the last year-and-a-half with just knowledge of it, learning about it. I began with this event on a professional level as a radio producer, and that was my attachment to it. But, especially with the timing of it, with his visit being over Passover, I’m what they call a “holiday Jew” [laughs] meaning I go to Synagogue and I celebrate holidays, but I don’t observe Shabbat every Friday and I don’t follow kosher laws and I don’t go to Synagogue regularly. But with the pope coming during Passover…even I had a little bit of a grudge against working over Passover at the beginning of all of this.

BH: Really?

RG: Yeah, sure. It was my holiday and while, yes, I work at a Catholic Channel, it’s often difficult for me to give up a Jewish holiday. But it’s what I do; it’s my job. So I was doing it. But when I watched the event on TV where the pope visited the Synagogue on Shabbat, on Friday night, I felt like I was caught up in part of it. I thought that was great. I listened to his remarks afterwards and then even after Shabbat and getting home later that night at eleven-thirty at night, he went into his residence where he was staying with the Secret Service, passing through all these people who were standing on the street just to get a glimpse of him, and rather than going off to bed, he told the Secret Service, ‘No, no. I want to go back outside and shake the hands of all of these people.’ And I just thought that was really cool. I thought he’s really become human to a lot of people here. Calling someone ‘The Vicar of Christ’ is a pretty big pedestal to put someone on and we might not have looked at him as such a human being as he has now shown himself. He really is a warm person who stood up in Synagogue on Friday night and said ‘shalom’ and ‘Happy Pesach’ on behalf of the Catholic Church. I thought that was a really incredible move. Sundown at the youth rally on Saturday was the start of Pesach—the beginning of Passover—it was really cool for me to watch the sun go down at the rally and I felt like I was sort of celebrating Passover with the Pope. So it really turned the whole event for me.

“He was reaching out and touching hands not just of the youth of the Catholic faith, but also that of the Jewish faith. And I thought that was great, especially at Passover. What greater time to bring that unity together?”

BH: It’s funny you mention that because one of the more moving parts of the trip to me was watching his visit to the Synagogue on television. After the Pope left the Synagogue, the camera lingered inside and I saw these little grandkids running up to their grandfathers or fathers at the Synagogue and jumping in their arms, really excited that the Pope had visited them. I found it very moving that these kids from a different faith tradition were so excited that the Pope had come.

Yeah, I saw a clip afterwards of two Bar Mitzvah-aged boys standing outside the Synagogue and they got a chance to shake his hand. And they were so excited; you could just tell they were beaming with excitement. It’s funny because on “The Busted Halo Show” we’ve been asking people for weeks, ‘if you had the opportunity to meet the Pope, what would you say?’ And they asked the younger of the two boys ‘well what did you say to him?’ And this young boy said, ‘I said to him, “shalom” and he said “shalom” back!’; you know, the kid was just so excited! I was just really moved by that; I was like, that’s just great. He was reaching out and touching hands not just of the youth of the Catholic faith, but also that of the Jewish faith. And I thought that was great, especially at Passover. What greater time to bring that unity together? Passover is a time of talking about freedom, and I think that that’s really his message too, is freedom from a lot of things. For him to go share a Shabbat service at a Synagogue with a Holocaust-survivor rabbi; I feel like that speaks volumes.

I just thought his entire itinerary was beautifully done and well-planned. It all had such a common bond of the future and of people from different faiths and backgrounds getting along.

BH: Can you talk about when it went from being just an event that you were working for The Catholic Channel to this other sense of where it became more to you?

I would say probably more than anything the Mass at Nationals’ Stadium was when it kind of really shifted for me. That was the Mass where I was really moved by his homily. I was moved by seeing 45,000 people all in one place being totally moved, and points throughout the service where there was just silence. There were parts of that that were incredibly moving, mostly because up until then I didn’t really get such a good look at him. Our first show was Tuesday night where we broadcast live from the Westin hotel where all the media was centered. It was the buzz and the excitement of every major media outlet in the world covering this. And that was really cool to be in. That was still on a professional level; I was producing a show for this event, and that’s what that was about. And then the next day we went to the Shrine next to Catholic University and broadcasted live from there where he met with the bishops. The cool part about that was we were on a field outside the basilica of the National Shrine next to Catholic University, and there were thousands of people on this lawn waiting for two hours, literally for nothing more than just a glimpse of him. And I thought that was kind of amazing and then at the same time it seemed a little strange to me. It was sort of like going to a rock concert to sit in the parking lot just to maybe get a glimpse of your favorite band and never hearing the show. And I didn’t really get that until I heard his homily and saw him, and saw the way he came out into the crowd and interacted with people. He was just so warm. He made 45,000 people beam.