Meet our bloggers


Anna WeaverAnna Weaver was born and raised in Kailua, Hawaii, and completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 2005. She has been a reporter/photographer for the Diocese of Honolulu’s newspaper, the Hawaii Catholic Herald, since September 2006. Anna enjoys hiking on Oahu, idolizes Jane Austen, and is a TV, movie and sweets junkie.


Chris Valka, C.S.B., is a seminarian with the Congregation of St. Basil (also known as the Basilian Fathers), to which he will profess final vows in August. He will be ordained a deacon in October and a priest next May. Originally from Houston, Texas, Chris has a background in communications and in education as a secondary school teacher.

For the past three years, Chris has studied theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto where he also works at Salt + Light Television as a producer and media associate. In May, Chris relocated to Sydney for four months as a volunteer for the organizing team of World Youth Day. Outside of his responsibilities to the community and work, Chris is a distance runner and avid reader.

“I first heard God’s call at World Youth Day in Denver (1993), though it would take me several years to figure out what that meant. Now, just before my own ordination, I have come to Sydney to give to others what was given to me some 15 years ago.”


Cindy Wooden has covered the Vatican in the CNS Rome Bureau since 1989. Her assignments have included traveling with the pope to cover the World Youth Days in Denver in 1993, Manila in 1995 and Paris in 1997. She grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, a small town that is sending a 19-member delegation to World Youth Day in Australia.


Known as “Em” by all her friends, Emily Anderson is the director of youth ministry at St. Louis Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va. Em was born and raised in the Northern Virginia area. She attended Christopher Newport University for her undergraduate career, where she received her B.A. in interdisciplinary studies. Em is currently studying for her big scary comprehensive finals in order to receive her masters in theology and Christian ministry (with a specialization in catechetics) from Franciscan University of Steubenville. If you see her studying during World Youth Day, you’ll know why.

This is her first World Youth Day and she’s excited to gallivant around the world with 10 youth and 2 other adults to see the Holy Father. She cannot wait to see the impact that it has on her pilgrims.

Em can often be found drinking water, making up insane games for youth nights (like peep jousting), hanging out with her friends in the Diocese of Arlington and making her office laugh with silly rules like “Red Shoe Monday” and ridiculous, made-up sayings like, “Are you mopping what I’m spilling?” Her passion is working with the youth of the church, whom she believes will transform the world by their love.

She loves Jesus and his momma Mary (who doesn’t?), and loves being Catholic. Her patron saints are Mother Teresa, St. John Bosco, St. Agnes and St. Emily de Vialar.


Joanna Lawson is a 28-year-old inhabitant of Perth, Western Australia. She is currently in formation as a lay missionary, and works for Catholic Mission as an education officer until she moves to India to start working there with exploited labourers.”I never thought that I could be so blessed as I have been to find my vocation as a missionary. I tried everything, and even though I was doing jobs that I had studied for for many years, it is only in working for Jesus and being with the poor that I found peace.”

World Youth Day is a very special event for Joanna, as it was in Cologne that the gift of love for her Catholic faith was given to her. It is no coincidence that she belongs to Our Lady of the Missions parish who supported her journey back into full swing Catholicism.

Aside from mission, her interests include collecting teacups and animal welfare, and she has a collections of English china and rescued animals. 


Kris Dmytrenko is a Toronto-based associate producer at Salt + Light Television, Canada’s Catholic Network. A regular host of the current affairs series Catholic Focus, Kris also co-wrote the S+L documentary “Mission to the UN” and directed the Catholic reality series “64 Days with the Ark”.

Before S+L, Kris worked as a campus lay missionary in Ottawa and as a tree planter in the middle of nowhere. This followed the completion of his religious studies BA at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Paul Haring is a Catholic News Service staff photographer and photo editor who is flying all the way to Sydney to cover World Youth Day. (Don’t worry: We bought him a round-trip ticket.) Though this is his third WYD — he’s been to Denver and Rome — it’s the first for him to photograph professionally. He’s worked for CNS full-time for nearly four years, and freelanced for us for a year and a half before that. He’s used to taking long flights halfway around the globe for CNS — we sent him to Indonesia in early 2005 after the region’s tragic tsunami.


“I’m Tim Harris and I’ve been Catholic all my life, and a passionate one for about 4 years now. I’ve loved being involved in my parish in Cape Town, South Africa, and this involvement and interaction with many amazing people has really challenged and grown my faith. I work as a designer in the advertising world, a job and a passion — so I’m lucky in that regard. I’m a big believer in the positive sides of my country; South Africa will always be my home. I’m 27, happy and healthy, and really excited about WYD2008. I thank God for this opportunity. Much Love, Tim.”


“My name is Valerie Nelson and I live in Virginia. I am a 21-year-old theology major also in the pre-med program at Marymount University and I hope to go off to medical school after college to pursue a career in emergency medicine. I am training to be an EMT and love to serve others. I am a singer, songwriter and guitarist who is hoping to put out a CD within the next month. I am pumped to see the pope at World Youth Day and feel blessed to have the opportunity to join millions of young Catholics to worship our Lord Jesus Christ.”

… and stuck back in Washington

Nancy Wiechec (left of three) is visual media manager for Catholic News Service, which means she’ll be editing the images produced in Sydney. As a photographer she’s covered four World Youth Days in person — Denver (which she blogs about here), Paris, Rome and Toronto. Barb Fraze (center) is CNS international editor, where she coordinates and edits news coverage by CNS correspondents and freelance writers around the globe. And Jim Lackey (right) is CNS general news editor, which is a fancy title for the person trying to make sure that the bus speeding down the mountain road doesn’t miss a turn and plunge off a cliff.



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