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Reporter's notebook: The pope's speechwriter, the pope's translator, a press corps roadblock

Pope Francis speaks to bishops at St. Charles

Pope Francis speaks to bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

PHILADELPHIA -- Pope Francis' homilies and speeches have struck a chord with millions of Americans, and some wonder if he writes his own speeches.

He does, according to a Vatican spokesman.

"The Holy Father likes to have a direct control over the message he gives," said the Rev. Manuel Dorantes, a U.S.-based assistant to the Vatican's spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Francis took the month of July off from most of his activities to prepare for his trip to Cuba and the United States, and spent the bulk of that time working on his homilies and speeches, Dorantes said.

The pope consults experts inside the Vatican about the countries he will visit, but also talks to bishops and others in the countries themselves, Dorantes said. "He's also known to pick up the phone and call people" beyond the bishops and other church leaders, he said.

The pope is "a Jesuit who really thinks and likes to discern God's voice, his own voice and what are other people's voices, before he uses his own voice before the public," Dorantes said.

Of course, some of the most memorable moments of the pope's trip were when he went off script, such as his talk about families Saturday night in Philadelphia that included a joke about mothers-in-law.

The Vatican press corps, which has breezed through security check points throughout the pope's trip while others waited for hours, finally ran into a roadblock Saturday.

As press members went to leave the pope's address outside Independence Hall just before he finished so they could get to his next event on time and avoid the total lockdown in the area that occurs when Francis travels, Philadelphia police stopped our group in its tracks.

The Vatican press aide in charge told the police we were the Vatican press corps. The cops didn't believe him.

A tense standoff ensued, with some less-than-pastoral-like words exchanged. We were trapped inside the metal gates lining the streets.

Eventually, the police let the press corps pass through, and we quickly sped to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the pope would address the World Meeting of Families that evening.

We made it on time.

There is a priest who stays at Pope Francis' side almost all the time in the United States and translates for him.

His name is Msgr. Mark Miles, and he's an official of the Vatican's Secretariat of State. He's originally from Gibraltar, the British territory south of Spain. His native language is a heavily accented British English. His second language is Spanish.

Francis has said he's not comfortable speaking in a language other than Spanish or Italian. So he usually turns to Miles, 48, to transmit his message to English speakers.

Of course, Francis often goes off his prepared homilies and speeches, so Miles has to be fast on his feet. That's especially challenging because Francis often uses Argentine idiomatic expressions that even some native Spanish speakers from other countries wouldn't know.

Like when Francis uses the word "pollera" for "skirt." The rest of the Spanish-speaking world would say "falda."

The pope apparently has great confidence in Miles. In January, when a typhoon alert was issued in the Philippines, where 6,300 people were killed by Typhoon Yolanda in 2014, the pope decided to ditch his prepared remarks. He asked the crowd if he could do so.

"I have a translator, a good translator," the pope said. "May I do that? May I?" The crowd roared its approval.

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