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Reporter first on pope story, thanks to her Latin skills

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Italian news agency reporter Giovanna Chirri broke the pope resignation story
  • Her knowledge of Latin gave her the edge to get the scoop
  • The news had her "knees feeling weak"

(CNN) -- How do you say "scoop" in Latin?

It's a good bet that Giovanna Chirri -- the journalist who broke the story of the pope's resignation -- can tell you.

Chirri's knowledge of Latin gave her the edge to understand the magnitude of the pope's announcement.

A reporter for ANSA, Italy's state-run news agency, Chirri was among a few reporters at what appeared to be a routine papal announcement Monday.

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Most media outlets chose not to cover the event, which began with 20 minutes of announcements concerning other church matters, ANSA reported.

But then, in Latin, Pope Benedict XVI said he would resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age." The news would surprise the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, but someone had to inform them first.

Chirri has "polished" Latin skills, her employer said, but it took confidence to trust that she heard what she thought she heard.

The pope's resignation, explained

"(The news of) his resignation didn't seem real to me," she told ANSA. "I told myself 'you misunderstood.'"

The pope's Latin is "very easy to understand," Chirri said, but it wasn't until the announcement was repeated that the reporter filed an urgent bulletin for ANSA, which was subsequently picked up by the rest of the world.

A devout Catholic, Chirri told ANSA she tries to keep her faith separate from her work covering the Vatican, but Monday's announcement made her cry because she was upset.

"I fought to keep my nerve despite my knees feeling weak," she told the news agency.

While Catholic services today are celebrated in local languages, Latin remains the official language of the Roman Catholic church. For this reason, all official acts of the church are announced in Latin, as was the case Monday.

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