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NBC Flashback: Pope John Paul II on TODAY

Almost three decades ago, NBC News’ TODAY Show journeyed to Rome to give audiences an unprecedented look inside the Vatican under Pope John Paul II.

Today marks the first anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis and, according to our new NBC News/WSJ poll, he is enjoying widespread support among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Almost three decades ago, NBC News’ TODAY Show journeyed to Rome for Holy Week, giving audiences an unprecedented look inside the usually private world of the Vatican under another beloved leader, Pope John Paul II. TODAY’s special week of broadcasting included glimpses of Mass from inside the historic Pauline Chapel, the first time American cameras had been allowed inside the Pope’s private chapel.

Viewers also saw a personal side of the Pontiff as he greeted a clearly moved TODAY show team after the service, including co-anchors Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley, plus Tim Russert, who as an executive at NBC was instrumental in arranging the special access.

Like Pope Francis today, John Paul was known for his savvy use of the media to reach a larger global audience. In 1985 E.J. Dionne, the then- New York Time’s Rome bureau chief, wrote of NBC’s broadcast: “The Vatican's decision to cooperate also reflects a new approach by a Pontiff acutely aware of the power of television."

Though he would not grant direct interviews, the Pope showed that ‘acute awareness’ with personal touches for the TODAY Show, including a special message proclaiming that he was “particularly pleased” to welcome NBC to the Vatican.

You can watch that 1985 message, as well as a rare informal moment between the Pope and TODAY’s Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley in Saint Peter’s Square, in the NBC Flashback video below, courtesy of NBC Archives.