White Smoke and Bells

April 20, 2005

It's easy to get jaded in this business, seeing and doing as much as we do. Even standing on the field of Yankee Stadium during batting practice at the World Series can seem routine after doing it 18 times.

But being in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke billowed from the copper chimney and seeing the crowds surge — hearing the cheers and applause, feeling the excitement, tension, and confusion build in the midst of tens of thousands of extremely interested, dedicated, and spiritual people — waiting until the giant bell of St. Peter's Basilica began rocking back and forth sparking an eruption of joy and celebration, then feeling another elevation of spirit as the red curtains parted and the new pope emerged — this was an unforgettable experience.

In the middle of the crowd I had the great fortune of meeting a group of American priests studying at the Vatican in Rome. They not only helped educate me on the significance of Cardinal Ratzinger's election, but they also generated a level of enthusiasm that would have been difficult to top by anyone else on the scene.

These men of the cloth were literally jumping up and down, clapping and cheering as the moment drew near. They grinned ear-to-ear, thanking the Lord for the cardinals' swift action and choice for the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, shouting "fantastic" and "amazing," calling it a blessing.

They were terrific interviews, and they were FOX Fans to boot.

Big props to cameraman Martin Langley, a Brit, who has close to 20 years in the business. We had a wireless camera and microphone, and were able to move freely through the crowd during our live shots in St. Peter’s Square, but it was tough work. The camera is heavy to begin with, and weighs significantly more with the RF (wireless radio frequency) gear on the back. Plus, we spent lengthly stretches of time standing by waiting to go live. All I had to hold was the microphone, but Martin had the equivalent of a couple cases of beer on his shoulder. He did some good-natured complaining, of course, but he also did outstanding work. It was cool going live while actually standing in Vatican City. I'm told it's a rare privilege.

The scene was dramatic, historic, compelling, and extremely moving. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed and reported the events of the past three weeks. This was an unforgettable trip. Nothing routine about it.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports.]

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Dear Mr. Leventhal,

We watched your interview with the American priests in St. Peter's Square live on Tuesday from our classroom! It was cool. We were jumping up and down in excitement when you interviewed our class member's uncle, Father Andrew! We felt like we were in the piazza there with you.

The 5th grade of Holy Family Academy
St. Louis Park, MN

Dear Rick,

My husband wants to know if you got any black, grey, or white smoke out of your shower head instead of water....ha ha ha!

— Robyn (Duncan, OK)

Dear Rick,

Your interviews with those American priests which you described jumping up and down, shouting for Pope Benedict, were superb. You managed speaking with each of them naturally, in their context, and so smoothly.

Thank you again, Rick, for your competence.
— Robert

The smoke was good and have to admit that we got excited at the great crowd. We liked the bells too. But you Mr. Leventhal, enthusiastically working the crowd with your sincerity and good humor, have made it worth watching. Enjoy your shower tonight and the evening of celebration- - ending a most interesting assignment we bet. You're the best, Leventhal, clean or dirty.

Your fans in the horse pasture,
Rockbridge Paths, VA


As a protestant I have to thank you for your wonderful coverage of the news out of Vatican City. You have made the 'inner-workings' of the whole process so much clearer for me, and your descriptions have truly made me feel like I was there. Because of the wonderful job you have done, it is now one of my life's dreams to visit Italy, and more specifically, Vatican City. Thank you, Rick, for opening my eyes to a world I would have never known.

Pam (Mason City, IA)


I've enjoyed both your reports on FNC and your "rambles" during your stay in Rome. Yes, there are thousands of coffee shops in Rome, all selling kick-you-in-the-pants coffee in little tiny cups.

If you are still in Rome or go back sometime, try to visit the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception. It's located on Via Veneto, near Barbarini Square and is amazing. I've never seen anything so strange or beautiful at the same time - it would be great if you could do a story on it.

Hope you enjoyed Rome a bit. Thanks again!
— Cat (Durham, NC)

Please thank everyone in charge at FOX News... I shall remember you all in my prayers so that you continue to do the marvelous reporting that you do each day. Thank you!

— Rosemary

Dear Mr. Leventhal,

Thank you so much for your outstanding work in Rome. As a college student, it has been difficult to be away from my parents and brothers during this time of grief, but I felt united with my family on account of your reporting and FOX's wonderful coverage. I would also like to take this opportunity to comment on your fantastic reporting in Iraq. Thank you for telling it like it is.

University of Notre Dame


Thanks for the well-written commentary. It was a great conclusion to a joyous week. You sure cover the globe.

— Tom

Excellent report on your trip. You actually made me feel like I was walking with you through your journey to see the Pope. Great writing. SCV


Thank you for sharing your experience with us. What a beautiful tribute.

— Maggie (Natchez,MS)

Thanks for the wonderful account of your visit to see the Holy Father. This past week has been rough for me, and for many, it seems. I'm not even Catholic, but my heart is filled with a great sadness at the loss of this shining example of what is good in our troubled world. Your story assures me that I am not alone.

— Michael (Farragut, TN)