Sharing What She Witnessed in ‘The Last Days’

Delia Gallagher is CNN’s faith and values correspondent.

A long-time Vatican analyst for the cable television news network, Gallagher recently released a special two-hour documentary on the final days of Pope John Paul II. “CNN Presents: The Last Days of Pope John Paul II” aired April 1, and re-aired over Easter.

She spoke recently with Register senior writer Tim Drake.

Where are you from originally?

I’m San Francisco-born, and University of San Francisco-educated. I was a part of the St. Ignatius Institute. After that, I went to Oxford and received my master’s degree in philosophy and theology. Then I went to Rome and started working with Inside the Vatican magazine. I started with CNN in 2003 during the sexual abuse scandals and was hired as a Vatican analyst. After the conclave, CNN President Jon Klein decided they needed a faith and values beat, and they offered me that job. I work in New York.

Tell me about your family.

I’m the oldest of five children and have four younger brothers who are all in southern California. My father is retired and has a Catholic theater company. He’s a playwright. My mother operates a tutoring center — Gallagher Learning Center. My parents are from Ireland.

In working on the documentary about the Pope, was there a favorite untold story that you learned?

I like the image of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz pushing the Pope up to the window so that he could look down, unseen, on the square, particularly at Christmas. This was a man who couldn’t even look out of the window. Cardinal Dziwisz said that the Pope loved to travel and get out of the country, and you can see why. He couldn’t even look out at the blue sky and watch the clouds going by. You can’t imagine that kind of life — how careful he had to be about doing the things that we take for granted.

His every moment was so scrutinized that you couldn’t suddenly put him up in front of the window. He couldn’t even cough without all of us wondering if it were a serious cough.

In those last years and months, his every movement was scrutinized. Reporting was stressful for journalists because we had to deal with rumors and watch him closely to see if there was any decline in his health. He had this habit of sometimes being very tired and being more slow, and everyone would get very nervous, and then you would see him a couple of days later and he would be fine. Those we spoke to said he had this great capacity to overcome these moments.

What was it like re-reporting the events of a year ago?

At times I was in tears. When you put it together with all of the visuals, it evokes the mood of that time. In a sense, we are reporting on it removed slightly because you cannot be transported by the emotion of the moment. So, it was interesting to watch those moments over again.

What did you learn that you hadn’t known before about John Paul II’s last days?

I learned a clarification about whether Pope John Paul II ever intended to resign. There were many rumors that he had written a letter that if he were to ever become incapacitated, he would step down. Cardinal Dziwisz said that no letter existed, but that the Pope had spoken of the possibility with his advisers some years earlier. It was interesting that he had investigated what the implications were of doing such a thing, but he seemed to not have written a letter.

You also report on Pope John Paul’s canonization process. At what stage is it?

The process is closed in Poland. That segment is closed. Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the postulator of the cause, has said that he wants to put forward this case of a French nun as the miracle for beatification. Once he has all the paperwork together, he will hand everything over to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. I think that will happen very soon.

I was surprised that so many of the cardinals told me that they were already praying to him and consider him a saint.

Can you tell me about the crowd size in Rome since Pope John Paul II’s death? I understand that the crowds are larger than they were when he was still living.

Comparing it to my time reporting over the last years, I could tell by looking at the square during January through March of this year, that there were many more people. Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, the governor of Vatican City, told me that 15,000 people a day are visiting the tomb of John Paul II.

I don’t know if it’s because of all the publicity from last year’s events, the phenomenon of having a new Pope or the desire to visit the tomb. It’s like a conveyer belt of people down in the crypt where the Pope’s tomb is; you get carried along by the crowd.

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.