Since 2004, I’ve been a staff photographer for Catholic News Service. In 2009, I had the wonderful opportunity to move from the Washington, D.C., area to join the CNS Rome Bureau. For decades, CNS had used other agencies and freelancers to provide photographic coverage of the pope and the Vatican, but had never had a staff photographer in Rome. 

When I arrived, I quickly realized patience and persistence are the keys to photographing Pope Benedict XVI. While it’s easy to take photos of the pope waving, it takes a lot of time and effort to capture images that are visually distinctive. 

Following are some favorite images from the past three years. 


KEY TO A GREAT PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI holds up the ceremonial key of St. Corbinian Parish as he dedicates the new church on the outskirts of Rome in 2011. Keys are a symbol of the papacy and I thought it was very unusual to see the pope holding a key. The guy who gave the key to the pope didn’t realize this would be a great photo because he kept standing in front of the pope. Fortunately I was able to crop him out. All photos CNS photos by Paul Haring

Good Friday

SACRED MOMENT: Pope Benedict XVI kneels in front of the crucifix during the Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2011. The pope’s reverence of the crucifix every Good Friday in a hushed and darkened basilica is one of the most sacred and moving moments. I consider this shot very important and worry every year that I will miss focus in the low light of the basilica.

Chair St Peter

CHAIR OF ST. PETER: Pope Benedict XVI passes the statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica during Mass with new cardinals on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter this year. I had tried several times to frame the pope with the famous statue, but I never seemed to get the shot. My luck changed in 2011 when the pope began using a wheeled platform, making him higher up so the focus and framing was much easier.

Swiss guard

A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Pope Benedict XVI is easily one of the world’s most photographed people. The challenge is coming up with images from a fresh perspective. Here he is framed by a Swiss Guard as he leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2010.


CNS photo by Paul Haring


CUBAN JOURNEY: I couldn’t believe I would have a chance to photograph Pope Benedict XVI juxtaposed with an image of Cuban Revolution hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara at the conclusion of Mass in Revolution Square in Havana this year. This was a high-tension opportunity on the altar, and, fortunately, I didn’t miss the shot or I might have regretted it forever. On papal trips, the challenge is to show the pope clearly situated in the host countries.


UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: “He won’t even see you,” a fellow photographer said as Pope Benedict XVI walked down the aisle during a parish visit in Rome in 2010. Sure enough, the pope didn’t look at me or the other photographers as he headed straight for a child. I’m this close to the pope only about 10 times a year, so I need to make these moments count.


CAPTURING THE UNSCRIPTED: Pope Benedict XVI kisses a reliquary containing a vial of blood of Pope John Paul II during the beatification Mass of his predecessor in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in May 2011. The pope’s unscripted kiss showed not only his affection for his predecessor but also reconfirmed the importance of relics in the life of the Church. I shot this from very far away on the colonnade with a 500 mm lens, one of my standard lenses for photographing the pope.


WEATHERING THE RAIN: Rain falls as Pope Benedict XVI leads the “Regina Coeli” from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican this year. I’ve learned not to curse bad weather as it often leads to interesting photo opportunities. I used an 800 mm focal length and a fairly slow shutter speed to blur the rain.


TELLING A STORY: Pope Benedict XVI meets Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, during his visit to Rome’s main synagogue in 2010. One of the main challenges in photographing Pope Benedict XVI is capturing images that show his relationships with others. It’s easy to photograph the pope waving to the crowd, but much more difficult to make a storytelling image.


POPE’S ENTOURAGE: Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leaves after visiting the cathedral in Cotonou, Benin, in November 2011. The pope is typically surrounded by a large entourage of aides and security personnel, which makes capturing clean images difficult even when you have an extraordinary background. In my dreams, the pope alone is exiting this doorway.


PAPAL PAN SHOT: The pope arrives for a general audience in St. Peter’s Square this year. The key to a good pan shot with a long lens is to try to move the lens at the same speed as the subject. My early attempts weren’t good, but I got in sync with Pope Benedict using a shutter speed of one-fifteenth of a second with a 500 mm lens.

Paul Haring is a Catholic News Service senior photographer.

Related article: What it’s like to photograph the Church’s shepherd