Traveling on the Pope’s plane is sort of like the Boys on the Bus, but not exactly. By my count, some 17 of the 70 reporters sitting in the back of the Alitalia flight are women.
Up front, with the papal entourage, it really is Boys Town. There I counted only one woman.
But its interesting that the two journalists who have made the most papal trips, covering both John Paul II and Benedict, are both women. One of the veterans is Spanish correspondent Paloma Gómez Borrero, who made all 104 international journeys of John Paul II, and 22 of Pope Benedict.
That’s a lot of frequent flier miles. Two bad Alitalia doesn’t give miles for these trips. They do give free toiletry bags, though, so many of us have racked up dozens of those over the years.
For some reason, journalists traveling with the Pope each reporter used to get a carton of cigarettes as well. I think somebody running the show must have felt guilty that we had to pay business class but sit in economy, and wanted to compensate in some way.
But the good old days are over, so now we only get tooth brushes and nail files.
Another correspondent who has logged a lot of papal miles is Valentina Alazraki, the long-time Rome correspondent for Televisa. Valentina’s first trip – which was also John Paul’s first trip – was to Mexico in 1979, when she was in her early 20s.
Now, nearly 35 years later, her total stands at 100 John Paul II trips, and 21 with Benedict. And it’s not over just yet. While Benedict is slowing down a bit, as he approaches 85, he is scheduled to go to Lebanon in September.
Valentina said in the early days of John Paul’s pontificate, being one of the only women on the plane was actually an advantage. “That’s how John Paul knew who I was right from the start,” she said on the way to Mexico.
The fact she’s a beautiful redhead probably didn’t hurt either.
Greg Burke has been the Rome correspondent for Fox News since 2001.