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Pontifical university in Poland honors veteran Vatican journalist

Valentina Alazraki, a veteran Vatican journalist who has covered the papacy for nearly five decades, receives an honorary doctorate from Msgr. Robert Tyrala, rector of the Pontifical University of John Paul II, during a ceremony Jan. 11, 2023, in the Sanctuary of John Paul II in Krakow, Poland. (OSV News photo/Maciej Gradowski, courtesy Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow)

By Paulina Guzik

KRAKOW, Poland (OSV News) — Valentina Alazraki, a veteran Vatican journalist who has covered papacies for nearly five decades received a honorary doctorate from the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow Jan. 11.

“I never imagined this moment,” she told OSV News, deeply moved to receive an honor she doesn’t just see as an academic one. “I interpret it as perhaps the recognition of the love I had for John Paul II and what I was able to convey about him to my countrymen and also other people from Latin America,” she said.

The doctorate “honoris causa” (Latin for the sake of honor) is given for extraordinary academic and lifetime achievements from universities across the globe. 

The Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow is the only pontifical university in Poland, homeland of St. John Paul. Previous recipients of the honorary doctorates were, among others, Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Piero Marini, who arranged pontifical liturgical celebrations for 20 years and is president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. 

Alazraki said she felt “morally responsible for continuing to speak of John Paul II after his death,” because she has always had the conviction that “we must not lose or scatter the immense legacy that he had left.”

And she received the honorary doctorate precisely for doing so.

“She proved with her life that Christian values have a deep meaning in one’s life,” Msgr. Robert Tyrala, rector of the university, told OSV News. “She not only traveled the world with Pope John Paul II, but she preaches his ideas in her daily work, which is more than precious.”

Alazraki said she thinks that while St. John Paul was talked about and considered frequently while he was alive, once he died his story ended for many people. “For me, it was never the case,” she said. “A new story began, which was to make people understand what the pontificate of John Paul II had been.”

Alazraki started covering the Holy See for Mexican television channel Televisa in 1974. Ahead of St. John Paul’s first apostolic visit to her native Mexico, she used a trick to interview the pontiff — jumping out from behind plants in the Vatican to talk to him. 

“It was not a Pulitzer interview,” she told OSV News, “and the pope couldn’t have laughed more when he saw me. The cardinal accompanying him exclaimed, ‘What times we live in!'”

She further made history by starting what is now known as papal in-flight press conferences by inviting Pope John Paul to visit the Foreign Press Association in Rome – he’s the only pontiff to date to visit – and by being one of the few correspondents, not to mention the only woman, to cover the Vatican nonstop since St. Paul VI.

How does she feel about it? “Very old!” she exclaimed when asked, adding that she doesn’t feel a part of history.

“I feel very privileged because I think it’s been a truly unique, absolutely amazing job,” she said. “Being able to witness events that changed the history of the church but also the history of the world. … I feel very lucky.”

Alazraki covered a record number of 156 papal trips, four papal funerals and four conclaves. As one of the most recognized Vatican journalists in the world, she has had a unique relationship with every contemporary pontiff.

Though she received the grand cross of the Order of Pope Pius IX from Pope Francis in 2021, St. John Paul remains one that influenced her life the most.

“I witnessed a unique experience of a man who carried a cross and who taught us to give dignity to sickness and suffering in his elderly days,” she said. “And that fortress, that impressive faith, that is, for me, the most important lesson on a human level that I have received in my life.”

“You teach young journalists how to convey the truth,” Father Michal Drozdz, university professor, said to Alazraki in his introductory remarks. “You teach us that a great legacy of John Paul II is not a relic of the past, but has a great potential in shaping the new generation.”

In accepting the honor, Alazraki noted she will soon be 68 years old but said that “today is one of the most important moments of my life.”

Paulina Guzik is International Editor for OSV News.

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