Gianni Giansanti, photojournalist at the Vatican

Gianni Giansanti (Catholic Press Photo)

Gianni Giansanti (Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — While in Africa with Pope Benedict XVI, the papal press corps received word that longtime colleague and internationally known photographer Gianni Giansanti had died in Rome March 19 of bone cancer.

Gianni, who was 52, was probably best known to the Catholic world as the man who magnificently captured on film the historic and private moments of Pope John Paul II’s 26-year pontificate. His book, “John Paul II, Portrait of a Pontiff” was published in 1996, and he provided a steady stream of news photos of unforgettable JPII moments: his first appearance in St. Peter’s Square, his meeting with would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in a Rome prison, his prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and many more.

I traveled with Gianni on papal flights to many places, from Sarajevo to Havana. Papal trips are grueling work for photogs, but he was always a fun and helpful colleague. In 1999, when CNS photographer Nancy Wiechec came aboard to cover the pope’s trip to Mexico and St. Louis, I remember that Gianni went out of his way to show her the ropes and make sure she was welcomed into the papal photo corps.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Gianni’s beautiful and candid portrait of the pontiff graced the cover of Time magazine.  Jeff Israely has a nice article in Time this week along with a photo gallery of Gianni’s work at the Vatican and elsewhere. Other stunning photos are also online at Gianni’s own Web site, including his 1978 photo of slain Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and his more recent shots of life in Africa and Italian portraits. We’ll miss his work, and we’ll miss him.

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