It has been very hard, the past few days, to decide what waves in the ocean of Vatican coverage are worth surfing. We will continue to try to note some of the better sites collecting valuable links.
One of the hardest things to do during this kind of news tsunami (said the stressed-out syndicated religion columnist) is finding some kind of new, yet valid, angle for coverage, something not being offered by at least 1,000 other reporters in the same news cycle.
Here are two of my favorite feature angles so far.
The first is by veteran Godbeat scribe Don Lattin in San Francisco. He picked one element of John Paul II’s intellect — his facility with eight or more foreign languages — and turned that into a witty glimpse into what it is like for an English-speaking reporter to attempt to cover, on deadline, a global press scrum with such a leader. Here is a sample from his first-person column:
Pope John Paul’s traveling press entourage was the most international (and for many years the largest) in the world. That meant that the questions were asked in five or six languages, and often answered that way by the multilingual pope.
That could be a problem for English-only reporters on a tight deadline. You never knew if the answer given in Spanish, French, German or Polish was going to be the real news, or one of the English answers you were able to understand.
I could cite dozens of other interesting stories, but let me mention one quiet little feature — with no byline, in fact — from South Africa. It appeared in one of my Google searches with this scan-stopping headline: “Women in the pope’s life.”
This story focuses on the five Polish nuns who surrounded and supported John Paul II throughout his episcopal ministry, right until the very end. There are too many touching details to mention, but here is a sample, a glimpse inside the papal apartment:
Sister Germana’s vegetable pies – especially spinach – wowed the late Italian president Sandro Pertini, who was a regular at papal working luncheons and dinners when John Paul II was well enough to entertain guests. Others fondly remember the carp served on Christmas Eve as a typical Polish delicacy.
For Polish visitors to the Vatican, the obligatory dishes included piroshki – dumplings with meat or fruit filling – pates, cheesecake and fish in aspic.
Sister Fernanda was in charge of the pope’s pantry, replenishing it mainly with fruit, vegetables and milk from Castelgandolfo, the pontiff’s summer holiday home just outside Rome.
John Paul II’s wardrobe was the responsibility of Sister Matylda, who must have suffered immense humiliation during a papal visit to France, when a horrified French bishop gasped: “There’s a smudge on the pontiff’s robe!”
John Paul II, we must remember, lost his family at a very young age. Then this loyal son of Poland lost his homeland. Frankly, I am amazed that more people are not writing about this inner circle of loved ones in his life — the nuns and his other trusted Polish aides — and the role they played in his ministry.
I would be willing to live without one or two of the lengthy reports on the impact of his life on the Democratic and Republican parties, if it meant getting to read some longer feature stories of this kind.