As a member of the Vatican press corps, Delia Gallagher has traveled extensively with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. After a two year stint in New York as CNN's Faith and Values Correspondent, Delia recently returned to Rome to serve as Senior Editor of 'Inside the Vatican' magazine. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Delia on 'Christopher Closeup' about her work, her journalism career, and her insights on Pope Benedict's vision for the future of the Catholic Church. Here are some excerpts:
Tony Rossi: Even though you’ve worked for the secular press like CNN, you seem to be most at home working in the Catholic arena. What’s the appeal of covering Catholicism in general and the Vatican in particular?
Delia Gallagher: The difficulty of working in the secular press for religion is the medium itself. Television doesn’t lend itself to any kind of in-depth discussion of (religion) so there is a frustration for somebody like me who knows a lot about it and who would like to get into some of the more interesting aspects or the deeper issues behind it or the history. But you just can’t do that on television...I’m happy to do television when there are big stories but it’s always at a very superficial level. To get any satisfaction out of the work, you have to work for readers and listeners who are interested in some of the bigger-picture things.
TR: How did your Mom and Dad pass on the faith to you in such a way that it’s not only an important part of your life but that you’re also devoting a lot of your career to it?
Delia Gallagher: My parents are from Ireland. I have 4 brothers...We grew up in an Irish-Catholic household...Every night at the dinner table, it was religion and politics. That was the basic theme in our family. Faith was very important, going to church...There was never any real intention on my part to go into reporting on religion...I didn’t even know that kind of job existed. But I was interested in it and I did study it. I studied philosophy and theology…at the University of San Francisco which is a Jesuit university. At that university, there was a program called St. Ignatius Institute which was founded by a Jesuit named Father Joseph Fessio who was a student of Cardinal Ratzinger. So frankly I’ve been studying the Pope for about 20 years now. But it was just an interest. And if there’s one thing I can say to young kids today, it's ‘when you go to university, study what you’re interested in.’ Unfortunately people say when you study philosophy and theology ‘what are you going to do with that?’ We’re so geared toward the career. But at the university level, you should be thinking about what’s going to enrich you, not what’s going to make you money. So that’s what I did and, of course, the money follows afterward. And I think a lot of it’s providential frankly. You just go along a little bit blind most of the time but things tend to come full circle as you follow what you feel like doing.
TR: I know you’re father was a playwright. What kind of plays did he write – and did his writing career have any influence on the fact that you yourself are a writer?
Delia Gallagher: Probably. He is still a playwright by the way. He likes Catholic martyrs. In most of his plays, the protagonist dies in the end. But (Dad) does have a theater company in California; it’s the Quo Vadis Theater Company so I’ll give him a little plug. I think it’s also maybe something in the Irish blood, an artistic leaning towards writing.
TR: You’ve written that the Pope’s larger vision of the Catholic Church is often overlooked. What is that vision and why do we not get it sometimes?
Delia Gallagher: The vision is, as he himself as said...some people have called it pessimistic. In other words, maybe the Catholic Church of the future is going to be a smaller church. I think when people think of evangelization and making fishers of men and certainly (words) from the Pope, the idea should be ‘We should go out and get as many people as possible.’ I think the Pope understands his role right now to be a re-enforcing...of the basics of the Catholic faith precisely so that in the future – if the world is going to become increasingly secularized and so on – this smaller but more faithful group of people can carry the light...
(Though) he doesn’t directly make parallels, he chose the name Benedict...Think of St. Benedict creating these small monasteries to see (his era) through the dark ages and then another flourishing of monasticism and of Christianity in general after the dark ages. You have to remember with this Pope – this is what we don’t understand – he’s got this very broad vision of history...He’s saying we may have to accept that it’s a smaller church right now, but who knows in 100 years and who knows in 500 years.
It’s connected to an idea he’s also talked about which is pruning. It’s the same thing for every individual person. In agriculture, you have to prune back the flowers and prune back the vines in order for them to flourish. So I think this concept is important to him both on this very large historical scale and also on the personal scale.
(For the free podcast of the full interview with Delia Gallagher, go to www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)