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FutureChurch Celebrates 20th Anniversary with Sylvia Poggioli

By Fran DeChant

Sylvia speaks to over 250 thoughtful fans who braved the aftermath of a Midwest blizzard to attend.
Sylvia speaks to over 250 thoughtful fans who braved the aftermath of a Midwest blizzard to attend.

Sylvia Poggioli gave scores who flocked to Cleveland State University’s Drinko Hall on February 3 their chance to meet and to hear the woman of the “golden voice” whose keen analysis of world events they had listened to for almost 20 years. Senior European correspondent for National Public Radio’s foreign desk, Poggioli reports from Rome, Italy; she added with amusement, from the attic of the walk-up apartment near the Vatican where she lives.

Introduced by Sr. Christine Schenk as her, “brilliant, gracious and unassuming,” friend, Sylvia Poggioli is the recipient of many awards. She spoke of recognition she is proud of, earned by her extensive reporting during the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia. With other courageous women correspondents, Poggioli was a leader in exposing the plight of Muslim women mass-raped by Serbian forces. The careful interviewing of these abused, often rural victims resulted in this atrocity being declared a war crime by the UN World Court in The Hague.

The long papacy of Pope John Paul II gave Poggioli better opportunities to describe complex workings inside the Vatican than she has had with Pope Benedict. John Paul’s media officials enjoyed direct access to him, not the case with his successor. Poggioli correlates the number of gaffes attributed to the present pope with his lack of skillful communication technology, listing Benedict’s remarks when he called Islam a violent, irrational religion along with his contradiction of scientific evidence in the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS. Wryly, she adds that the job of a woman correspondent has become even harder when “the Vatican finds it difficult to deal with the existence of women!”

Pope Benedict has officially committed his papacy to the reevangelization of Europe. But Poggioli quotes Hans Kung: “Benedict is sapping essentials and does nothing to help the Church.” His acknowledgment of the clerical sex abuse crisis has not succeeded in addressing harm done in countries like Germany, Ireland and Belgium. In Germany, masses of Catholics are reported leaving the Church. In Italy and in France church attendance has dipped to a low of 12-15 percent.

Poggioli cites huge challenges to European nations brought about by the creation of the European Union. She calls their unwillingness to give up national sovereignty for the common good “the Achilles heel of the European project.” Culture, attitudes and demographics separate the goals and policies of Northern Europe from Southern Europe. Immigration issues, youth unemployment and economic problems that create a permanent underclass of the most educated are results. Neo-Nazi and extreme right wing parties foment a dangerous unrest that now lurks as “lost, frozen ghosts of the past (World War II) are reborn. Europe is a part of the world that looks over its shoulder and doesn’t look forward.”

Sylvia Poggioli answered audience’s questions judiciously. Will Silvio Berlusconi’s private behavior drive him from office? Considering his power hold on much of the country as Italy’s Premier, probably not. President Obama was Europe’s candidate and remains very popular with the people. Are women priests and elimination of celibacy as a requirement for priesthood in the offing? To which she responded, “I’m not holding my breath.”

At the conclusion of Sylvia Poggioli’s address, the appreciative audience burst into sustained applause. With her husband, she left on a wave of good wishes and hopes for her return.

Sylvia Poggioli and her charming husband Piero with FutureChurch staff.
Sylvia Poggioli (center first row) and her charming husband Piero (far left second row) with FutureChurch staff.

Sylvia and Piero with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who brought Detroit friends to the Cleveland program.
Sylvia and Piero with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who brought Detroit friends to the Cleveland program.

Focus on FutureChurch

Winter 2011

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