By Heather Walker
ROME – Few people are as “in the know” about the Vatican as American Catholic journalist Cindy Wooden, who has been reporting on the Catholic Church from Rome for a little over two decades.
Born in northern Idaho, Wooden studied at Seattle University, before starting her journalistic career at the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle. She moved to Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C., in 1998. A year later, she joined the CNS Rome bureau, taking the helm as bureau chief in 2015. Wooden heads a five-member team that produces articles, photos, and videos for Catholic publications and media outlets worldwide. Her work, which includes covering the pope, takes her out of Rome from time to time as well.
“I’ve done dozens of foreign trips with St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis,” she said.
Wooden has authored two books and co-edited with Joshua McElwee "A Pope Francis Lexicon."
Her most recent book project is a collection of the prayers of the current pontiff. She spoke with The Lay Centre about the new book, “Prayers of Pope Francis,” which includes a contribution from Lay Centre Director Donna Orsuto.
Q. How did the idea of this book, “Prayers of Pope Francis” come about? Could you tell us about your involvement?
I am the Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have a publishing department and, from time to time, have asked for ideas for books. In 2014, I wrote “Pope Francis. A Guide to God’s Time,” which uses homilies from the pope to explain the liturgical year. It was a co-publication of the USCCB and LEV, the Vatican publishing house, with beautiful photographs from Paul Haring, the CNS Rome photographer. His photo is the cover of “Prayers of Pope Francis,” too.
Q. The prayers are divided into various chapters, some unexpected, for example “Prayers from Abroad.” Would you say that this collection of prayers represents the pope’s outreach and mission so far? How were the prayers selected?
One of the prayers in the “Prayers from Abroad” chapter actually is what convinced me the collection would be a good idea. We were in Madagascar and the pope went to a stone quarry where the workers would break and haul the stones by hand. Overlooking the dusty pit, he prayed with the workers — for them, but also with them, for all people who provide for their families by back-breaking labour. It was an amazing moment. There was nothing fancy or formal about it. The pope went to where the people live and work; he saw them as they were, paying homage to their dignity and gathering them to pray for others.
I’ve been struck from the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy by how many occasions, when his predecessors would give a speech, that Pope Francis chooses to write and recite a prayer. I basically included all of the prayers written by the pope that I could find. Unfortunately, the book went to the printer before “Fratelli Tutti” was published, so the two prayers from that document are missing.
The homepage of the Vatican website does have a link for “prayers,” but it is not complete. So, I did have to search for others that I knew existed. With the exception of the short prayers he often uses to end homilies, I think the book is fairly comprehensive.
Q. Is there one particular prayer which is dear to you?
I go back to the prayer in the quarry often. But as a group, I think the prayers that the pope has written and recited at the end of the Via Crucis at the Colosseum on Good Friday are particularly powerful.
Q. Why is it significant that this book of prayers should be published at the time of the pandemic?
With the lockdowns and cautions on gathering physically, I hope people will find a sense of community in these prayers and words to express what they are experiencing and hoping for, but also seeing how they, too, can pray.
Q. You have travelled on numerous occasions with members of the press to cover the apostolic journeys. Would there be moments of prayer with the Holy Father on the flights, particularly for the journalists accompanying him?
Soon after departing from Rome, the pope comes through the plane and greets each person individually. Some people give him gifts, many ask for his prayers.
Q. In his foreword, Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, underlines how Pope Francis not only practices particular ways of prayer, but also teaches us and encourages us to pray. Donna Orsuto in her introduction starts by reminding us of how, on the day of his election, Pope Francis asked everyone to pray for him. Would you like to comment on the thoughts and suggestions made by the Cardinal and Prof. Orsuto?
The body of the book is simply texts with a bit of context I provided. The foreword by Cardinal Czerny, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, and the introduction by Professor Orsuto are beautiful and profound reflections on how Pope Francis prays, why he prays and why he asks us to pray. While I often pray with the pope, my main focus is almost always journalistic. Cardinal Czerny and Professor Orsuto provide the theological, spiritual and even human context for the pope’s prayers, which is much more important than knowing the journalistic “who, what, when, where and why” of the occasions for which the prayers were written.
For information on the book or to order a copy, go to: USCCB Store