"It was really very moving to be here," Maria Shriver told PEOPLE of reporting for NBC from the Pope's speech at the White House

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated September 23, 2015 12:55 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Maria Shriver

For Maria Shriver, a member of one of America’s most famous Catholic families, the Kennedys, Pope Francis‘s ceremonial greeting at the White House was both a work assignment – and “emotional” reminder of the work of her family.

“This Pope is inspiring for me as an American, as a woman, as a Catholic,” Shriver told PEOPLE on the South Lawn of the White House.

“It was really very moving to be here.”

And also no small feat.

Shriver, anchor Matt Lauer and their NBC News crew had to be at the White House gate at 4 a.m. in order to clear tight security and set up on the grass where 15,000 guests and hundreds of media would eventually crowd the Pope’s appearance.

Shriver came prepared.

She wore Keds-style black tennis shoes to ease the line-standing, the wait, and the trek across the lawn. Joined by her children, Christopher, Katherine and Christina, Shriver tweeted that they were waiting in anticipation for the big arrival.

At her live-shot stand, the crew had a shipping container brimming with sustenance: granola bars, pretzel rods and “breakfast-on-the-go” snack packs.

And, in her purse, she carried her rosary. But unlike dozens of others in the D.C. crowds spotted holding rosaries and crosses in order to have them “blessed” by sharing air space with the Pope (the Catholic book store 5 blocks from the White House had sold out of rosaries two days before Francis even got here), Shriver said: “I have a rosary every day – in my pocket, or in my bag.”

The NBC News correspondent, whose mother Eunice Shriver was sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy – all progressive, Catholic Democrats – said the Pope’s message at the White House “to protect the vulnerable in our world” and “reject every form of injustice and discrimination” resonated with her on a personal level.

“It’s the social justice work of the Catholic nuns and it’s also, obviously, work that people in my family – my mother, my uncles – have done, and that millions of people do every day on the streets of Washington, Chicago, L.A., Boston … People don’t focus a lot of the time on all the work that goes on in the streets, but they’re focusing now. Pope Francis is asking people to focus.”

While many in the White House crowd could be seen cheering and hooting and whistling for Francis while tears streamed down their cheeks, Shriver was not among the weepy.

“I felt emotional, but I didn’t cry,” she said. “I’m working.”