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A Peek at the Papacy

My third book, Lessons with Love, will feature humorous and poignant stories spanning my 33 years as a Sandpoint High School educator. One selection, “Ya Mean SHE Taught the Pope!!!” may cause a stir. Certainly, I don’t look old enough to have taught John Paul II! So, how could this happen? You’ll have to read the book to learn the answer.

I AM definitely old enough to have taught Cindy Wooden, as is my journalism mentor, Bob Hamilton. We, along with her local family and friends, have been busting our buttons for 15 years knowing that Cindy has followed the Pope’s activities as a reporter for Catholic News Service (CNS) in the Vatican Bureau. In fact, this 1978 SHS grad has flown on the Papal jet with the Vatican press corps more than 30 times when the Pope has taken his world tours.

And, oh, the places she has gone—Ukraine, United States, France, several African and South American countries, Romania, Australia, Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2000, Iran, etc. On a mid-August trip to Lourdes, France, the press corps accompanying the Pontiff numbered 67 reporters, photographers and television correspondents. Accompanying the Pope allows reporters guaranteed access to most of the papal events, including meetings with heads of state or private visits to churches where he is not celebrating Mass—which he usually does in a large outdoor space.

“The flight time is devoted to reading the speeches the Pope will give throughout the day of his arrival and to writing the arrival story—knowing full well that sights and sounds will have to be added and the whole story may change once we land,” Cindy explained. “...still and television photographers get off the plane first and quickly so that they can be in place to take pictures as the Pope descends from the plane. The rest of us file out and are usually herded to a press platform where we watch the arrival ceremony.”

On a 2001 Ukraine visit, the Pope celebrated ten years of the country’s independence from the former USSR as well the resurgence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which was banned in 1946 by the Soviet Union. John Paul II also beatified Fr. Roman Lysko, a priest arrested for ministering secretly for three years after the church was outlawed. Besides covering the Pope’s visit, Cindy met Lysko’s wife Neonila (Greek Catholic priests can marry) and her daughter Zvenyslava.

“Neonila, who was 79 . . . grasped a family photo which included her husband and told me that she still went several times a week to the jail where her husband was last seen alive in 1949,” Cindy recalled. “She has no idea what happened to his body . . . after all these years her eyes spill over with tears . . . the Soviets told her that her husband died of a heart attack, but other prisoners in the jail said he was brutally beaten and then sealed alive in a wall. For Neonila, the jail is his tomb.”

Cindy’s career of chronicling these poignant stories was launched by journalism and religion degrees from Seattle University. During a stint with CNS in Washington, D.C., her call to Rome came. She hasn’t looked back. She looks forward to many more years of meeting incredible people through this vocation she truly loves. Since her 1989 arrival in Rome, the “Cindy Wooden” byline has appeared in 200 Catholic newspapers and magazines in 40 countries around the world.

“Each day my two colleagues and I read the Vatican’s daily newspaper and the transcript of Vatican Radio’s main newscast,” Cindy explained recently. “One of us spends four or five hours staffing our desk in the Vatican press office where we have access to Vatican spokesmen. The Pope’s daily list of appointments is posted there, and his speeches, letters and documents are released there.

“There is always someone in the Vatican doing something interesting, and so we do a lot of interviews,” she added. Cindy has reported on several hot topics, ranging from the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the United States, to wars around the world, peace efforts, Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion, and ongoing efforts to promote Christian unity.

“I’ve come to know the Pope’s attitudes and positions very well, but it’s not like I know him personally,” she said. “I think he recognizes me as one of the journalists who follow him around . . . . Whether you agree or not with some of his positions on moral or social issues, I don’t think anyone can doubt the strength of his faith or the fact that he seriously spends hours in prayer, has an uncanny ability to connect with young people and is truly moved when he sees people suffer.”

With the 84-year-old Pope’s declining health, Cindy anticipates a hectic period when he retires or dies.

“My life will get crazy,” she says. “Thousands of journalists will descend on the city, as well as all the world’s cardinals. I do not believe the Pope will retire; I am convinced that he believes that because he was elected for life to serve as head of the Catholic Church, he will remain until God decides his term should end.

“...there will be a huge funeral… Cardinals who are under 80—as of Sept. 1 there were 123—will gather in the Sistine Chapel to discuss the needs of the church and vote for the person they think would be the best guide for the church,” she explained. “Like all news organizations . . . , we do have a plan for how we will cover the events . . . . like most of our colleagues we have a package of stories about Pope John Paul II’s life . . . which we update regularly so that we will not have to start from scratch when the time comes.”

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

education, Catholic Church, Cindy Wooden, Bob Hamilton, Catholic News Service, Vatican, teaching

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