In the Footsteps of 4 Popes

Interview With Spanish Journalist Awarded Bravo! Prize

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By Carmen Elena Villa
 
MADRID, Spain, NOV. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Paloma Gómez Borrero has spent more than 30 years covering Vatican news, following the activities of every pope since Paul VI, as well as other ecclesial personalities such as Mother Teresa.

The Spanish bishops have recognized her work by awarding her the Bravo! prize, given to those who distinguish themselves at the service of the dignity of man, human rights and evangelical values.

Gómez, 74, is still reporting on the Vatican. She has also authored a variety of books.

ZENIT spoke with the journalist about some of the highlights of her long and fascinating career.

ZENIT: What is your reaction to receiving this prize?
 
Gómez: First of all, great surprise because I didn’t expect it. I had already received the radio Bravo! many years ago and I was called and told that I had been awarded the special Bravo! for a life dedicated to the press, to information. I thought it was wonderful.

ZENIT: How did you become an expert in Vatican journalism?

Gómez: In fact, it wasn’t something that I sought. I was in Spanish television for Italy, where I went to live because I married an Italian. I followed Paul VI’s death and it was a serene news [event], and then I met John Paul II, a traveling Pope who was very close [to the people], with a great charism. On some flights I was the only woman on the plane and this also made the Pope be especially attentive to me. He joked with me, saying that I was called Paloma [Spanish for dove] because of flying so much.
 
ZENIT: You have spent so many years in journalism, you must have met several personalities who made an impact on you. Can you tell us something about some of them?
 
Gómez: Mother Teresa is undoubtedly the first. I remember her eyes, her smile. I went to Calcutta to meet her. In that hell that is Calcutta was born her epic of charity. We accompanied John Paul II there.
 
I also remember when the Pope gave her the Dono di Maria house in the Vatican to help the neediest. When the Pope went to inaugurate the house, I was next to Mother Teresa. She gave me her little medals of the Miraculous Virgin and told me to give them to whomever I wished. I went with her to pray in the chapel.
 
I also remember when I interviewed her for Spanish TVE. At that time she wasn’t the Mother Teresa of the Nobel Peace Prize but she was known. The cameraman took many close-ups. I asked him why and he replied: «I don’t know who this nun is, but I couldn’t separate the camera from her eyes.» He also said to me: «If you don’t want to put a voice with the interview, it isn’t necessary; let her eyes speak.»
 
There are many anecdotes. The summer before she died, she was already very ill. She was asked what she was going to say to St. Peter when she arrived in heaven, to which she responded with jokes: He is going to give me grief because I have filled heaven with the poor.
 
ZENIT: Now let’s go in order over the pontificates you have covered. What do you remember of Paul VI?
 
Gómez: Very little because he was already very ill when I began to cover news of the Holy See. I remember especially his death and the conclave that was held after 15 years. To report on this was a great challenge for me.
 
I remember that before the conclave I had to look for cardinals and it was very difficult to interview them. We had a pre-conclave section in the 9 o’clock news. Every day I took a cardinal to RAI [Italian Radio and Television] to be interviewed live. Among them was an African cardinal. I asked him about the possibility of a black pope being elected, and he answered me pointing upward: «Let the other Paloma [dove] answer that,» referring to the Holy Spirit.
 
ZENIT: What do you remember of John Paul I’s brief pontificate?
 
Gómez: I remember when he came to see those of us who covered the conclave. He was a great parish priest, very cordial and gentle. He told us that he had read the news reports after having been elected Pope and that we virtually guessed nothing with what we said had happened in the conclave. He said to us, «Don’t invent, just report what you see.» He also said: «You are so important that if St. Paul lived today he would be a journalist and he would try to enter a news agency because of the power you have.»
 
ZENIT: And there is so much to say about John Paul II. What do you remember most about him as a person?
 
Gómez: His sensitivity and ability to connect with young people, to whom he said from the first moment: «Open the doors to Christ» and «Don’t be afraid,» to a world that lives in fear. That is what made him create in such an incredible way the World Youth Days.
 
In Spain, already very ill, on his last trip in 2003, he said «I am a young 83-year-old Pope.» This impressed me very much. I asked him, where is the Church going with John Paul II? And he answered, «Ahead, in search of and defense of man and with the Gospel in hand.» I think that with that he told me everything. I remember when we were in Turkey, in that very dangerous trip because Ali Agca had escaped from prison, the Pope said at that moment: «When love is stronger and greater than the danger, one is never afraid and the world must trust God.»
 
ZENIT: What do you consider was the hardest part of that long pontificate?
 
Gómez: The attack. It was very unexpected. He was traveling in a white jeep, with his blood-stained cassock in the arms of today’s Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. We didn’t even realize. It was Vatican Radio that told us that terrorism had entered the Square. Many people began weeping. Through the loudspeakers news was given that he was at the Gemelli in the operating room, and it was the whole night. All the churches were opened to pray for him.
 
ZENIT: What do you remember most about his death?
 
Gómez: When I bid him farewell in the Clementine Hall, while they were keeping vigil, I remembered his words at the beginning of his pontificate: «I want to be the sweeper of the world to leave the roads clean so that love will pass, the peace of God.» I knew that I wouldn’t see him again and I said to him «now you are sweeping heaven.»
 
ZENIT: How do you see these more than five years with Pope Benedict XVI?
 
Gómez: This Pope is discovered day by day. He has an intelligence, a clarity, a humility, an affability and a closeness that I never imagined, although I had interviewed Cardinal Ratzinger for television and I saw he was a person who is very close to others, who liked to talk and above all to listen.
 
I admire his line and his coherence. He wants God to enter man’s life, the nation’s life, for us to return to our Christian roots, that all those who believe in the one God should dialogue and not neglect the life of any one. I describe John Paul II as super star, and Benedict XVI as doctor affabilis.
 
ZENIT: What fruits do you think the Pope’s recent visit to Spain will give?
 
Gómez: The addresses were magnificent. The Pope was very happy and I think the Spanish people were also most welcoming of the Pope. What the Pope said is important for Spain, and he said it with a clarity and with a respect for all, which might well change many things.
 
ZENIT: Do you have hope for the situation of the faith in this country?
 
Gómez: Yes, because as the Pope said, a government or secular state has no reason to have a confrontation with the Church. Instead, they should meet on points in which the two are in agreement: defense of man, of dignity, of liberty for education and of necessary collaboration. Confrontation is very dangerous. That is what the Pope tried to say.
 
ZENIT: What traits should characterize a journalist in charge of reporting on happenings in the Church?
 
Gómez: Not only on happenings in the Church but in any field that one must report on, one must be led by the truth. Instinctively, one reports as one sees it and interprets it, but one m
ust never manipulate what one is seeing. One cannot orchestrate the news or what the Pope or a politician says. One cannot take things out of context or manipulate the news.
 
A journalist has the good fortune to tell what he sees. He must let people make their own judgment because to manipulate also means that one thinks his readers are stupid because what one is presenting to him is not true. It is necessary to let the reader judge — to report well and then to allow the reader, the listener or the viewer to himself make a composition of the setting.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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