By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The crowds were out yesterday along the Popemobile's route on Massachusetts Avenue. But one person was conspicuously missing. And many people were wondering why.
Everyone who lives in the District neighborhood or commutes up Massachusetts Avenue knows that John Wojnowski, 64, a retired ironworker, is there almost every afternoon holding up placards decrying sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Wojnowski stands in front of the Vatican Embassy, directly across the street from the vice president's mansion, in the rain, snow, sleet or sun, with signs such as, "The Vatican Hides Pedophiles." He often shakes them above his head to grab drivers' attention.
The Polish-born Wojnowski grew up in Italy and lives in Bladensburg. He tells anyone who asks that when he was 15, he was molested by a priest in Italy and that the experience brought him years of depression and withdrawal.
"He recently got a brand-new sign," said Andy Macdonald, who lives a couple of blocks from Wojnowski's spot and has seen him protesting for years. "And today is his big day. Nobody can figure out why he isn't here. People are talking about it."
Macdonald said Wojnowski was across the street and up Massachusetts Avenue a bit two days ago when Pope Benedict XVI arrived for his U.S. visit. Wojnowski was holding a much larger, freshly painted sign, Macdonald said. It reads, "Pope Hides Pedophiles."
Benedict is staying at the Vatican Embassy, formally known as the Apostolic Nunciature. Catherine Robinson, a senior at American University, said she saw Wojnowski on Tuesday afternoon, about the same time Benedict's plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base. She said there were several police officers around Wojnowski.
D.C. Assistant Police Chief Patrick Burke, who is in charge of homeland security and special events for the department, said he did not see Wojnowski on Tuesday or yesterday.
"I'm not sure where he went," Burke said, adding that Wojnowski was not arrested by D.C. police.
Burke said he was surprised, too. Burke said when Benedict went to the embassy yesterday about 5 p.m., he noted other people there protesting but not Wojnowski.
So much for all the speculation and suspicion though.
Wojnowski eventually showed up yesterday -- at rush hour. He had his new banner, too.
He is nothing if not a disciplined man.
Wojnowski has been protesting every day since 1998, essentially during rush hour. He said that it was Secret Service agents he was seen talking to the other day and that they simply told him he'd have to move away from the embassy. So why wasn't he around when the pope rode by?
"I never planned to be here," Wojnowski said. "I stick to my routine. I have things to do."