The Pope and the Press

An inside look at John Paul II's rapport with journalists.

Pope John Paul II steps from a helicopter in Oslo, Norway, during a tour of Scandinavia in June 1989.
Pope John Paul II steps from a helicopter in Oslo, Norway, during a tour of Scandinavia in June 1989. (photo: CNS file photo by Arturo Mari)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — No one can fully understand the personality and courage of Pope John Paul II without examining the “flying press conferences” he held on airplanes during 104 trips outside of Italy, said retired Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who organized most of those trips.

“He was not evasive. He wasn’t afraid to answer, even if sometimes he was irritated by the question,” Cardinal Tucci said March 23 at the presentation of a book containing the transcripts in Italian of most of Pope John Paul’s high-altitude encounters with the press.

The transcripts were made from recordings in the archives of Vatican Radio and reflect the often informal and sometimes chaotic atmosphere in the journalists’ section of the papal plane, particularly during the early years of Pope John Paul’s 1978-2005 pontificate.

Cardinal Tucci said the speeches, books and poetry of Pope John Paul give people what he thought when he had time to reflect in a methodical way, but his responses to reporters — which include some light-hearted joking and some good-natured scolding — show more of his personality, his ability to think on his feet and his real facility with languages, since he would respond in the language in which the question was posed.

The transcripts help people recognize the late Pope’s “great ability to face the great questions of the day without fear,” the cardinal said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Press Office, said the tapes demonstrate Pope John Paul’s “spontaneity and good nature in meeting journalists.”

He said 70% of Vatican Radio’s entire sound archive consists of the voice of Pope John Paul, not only because his was the longest reign of any pope in Vatican Radio’s 80-year history, but also because “he was the pope who spoke the most.”

It was only in his pontificate that the radio started recording and archiving what the pope said off-the-cuff, he said.

In the introduction to the book, Father Lombardi wrote, “The pontificate of John Paul II probably was the first to be documented in a truly systematic and almost complete way through audio recordings.”