Pope Roncalli and the work of the Council

The technicians of the Holy See have organized a modern system so that John XXIII can follow the assembly live on television from the papal study. “The pontiff didn’t think he could go that far,” said his assistant cameraman, Guido Gusso, in charge of handling the shots. “Setting up the system was not particularly complex,” explained Vatican Radio technical assistant Pier Vincenzo Giudici at the time, recalling the collaboration with Philips.

Eugene Bonanata – Vatican City

Today, video calls and online meetings are available to everyone. But this was not the case in 1962. However, for the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the technicians of the Holy See succeeded in setting up a modern system which would allow John XXIII to follow the acts of the Council live. on video without leaving your apartment.

“The pope was very curious and connected almost every day,” his valet, Guido Gusso, said, revealing to telepace the background of a fact hitherto unknown to most. In practice, in the study of Pope Roncalli, there was a television connected to two cameras placed in front of the two “wings” into which the Council Room was divided, installed in the central nave of St. Peter’s Basilica. And that’s not all. “From the studio – Gusso points out – we could move the cameras and zoom in to see who was speaking at that moment or the expression of who was in the class”.

The work of Vatican Radio

Engineer Pier Vincenzo Giudici, then deputy technical director of Vatican Radio, who was in charge of the audio equipment, tells us the details of the system. A commitment that led to the complete recording of the conciliar work – today of inestimable value – but also to the dissemination of the signal on the site and outside, within the framework of the programs and services produced by the Pontifical Radio.

“Vatican Radio – explains the engineer – worked in support of the engineer Francesco Vacchini, the head of the San Pietro factory, who supervised the project and the construction of the room. asked to bring the video signals to the papacy apartment, in addition to the audio signals we have already provided.And, of course, we made ourselves available.

The installation was not particularly complex, according to the engineer Giudici, who remembers having worked with the winning company of the competition, Philips, for the support in the audio part. “CCTV was not as demanding from a cerebral point of view as it was physically,” he adds.

“It was necessary to establish where to place the cameras and where to run the cables, and this was taken care of by the Vatican electricians, who were familiar with all the key points of the papal apartment.” The installation was also facilitated by the tunnels that Vatican Radio technicians had dug under the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica during the long preparatory phase of the Council. A solution to facilitate any type of connection, still valuable today and which also served in its time to route the video signal to the destination point.

John XXIII “very satisfied”

“John XXIII was delighted with this organization, he did not think it could go that far,” Gusso explains, pointing out how this system allowed the pope to be present at the work without being physically present. “He took care to leave the bishops the possibility of confronting each other freely”, even if the Bergamasque Pontiff had his bearings because there were cardinals who were not at all favorable to the Council.

“I already knew where to point the camera: for example, towards Cardinal Ottaviani or Cardinal Siri, who even said that it will take 500 years to repair the mess of the Council”. Many members of the Roman Curia were particularly concerned about the expense that the conciliar way would entail. In the end, the Vatican paid nothing,” Gusso explains, without giving further details on the benefactors.


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