Eight years ago, Rosemary Dente, a Roman Catholic who worked as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, realized a personal and professional dream when she waited on Pope John Paul II aboard a TWA jet as he returned to Rome from his first visit to the United States.

Today, Dente, who has lost her job at TWA and works as a receptionist in Georgetown, finds herself criticizing her church for its decision, now under review, to book the pope again on TWA for his September visit.

Dente and about 4,300 other TWA attendants went on strike 16 months ago, were replaced by TWA, and have not been called back to work after their bitter dispute over contract concessions imposed by TWA Chairman Carl Icahn.

Their union, the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants, has seized upon the upcoming papal visit as a way to draw attention to its lingering dispute with TWA, now in federal court. In news conferences and newsletters, the union has criticized the Washington-based U.S. Catholic Conference for choosing an airline that the union says engaged in tactics that violate church teachings on labor issues, specifically as they relate to women.

In response, Catholic officials, who in the past have often sided with labor unions in secular controversies including the California grape boycott, find themselves having to defend a decision with antiunion overtones.

The conference's general secretary, Msgr. Daniel Hoye, announced in January that he had chosen TWA's bid over those of Pan American and United Airlines, largely because of cost, service to the cities where the pope was traveling and the pope's last experience with the airline.

He says that at the time he did not know the depth of the dispute between TWA and the flight attendants -- a statement disputed by the union president, Victoria Frankovich. "We were at war and everyone knew it," she said.

The union then launched a letter-writing campaign to the Vatican and to various bishops in this country. At that point, Hoye appointed a panel to review the matter, including two bishops and a Catholic University professor experienced in labor-management disputes.

Members of two major airline unions, the Air Line Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists, have continued to work at TWA and did not support the flight attendants' strike. Those two unions lobbied the church in a separate meeting to stick to its decision.

The church panel's recommendation is expected to say that the choice of TWA does not violate church teachings. In that case, Hoye said, he will sign a contract with the carrier.

"If we reversed our decision now, it would look as if we're taking sides for {the flight attendants' union} and against TWA," Hoye said yesterday. "We don't intend to take a position one way or the other."

In Dente's view, however, the church has already taken a position, a position that has left her feeling "drained."

Until recently, her dispute with TWA was primarily one of wages and fair treatment. Now, she said, it touches her "religious convictions. I would hate to think," she added, "that {for the church}, the major issue once again is the bottom line."

Dente had flown 18 years for TWA -- and received several awards for excellence -- when she and 95 percent of her union colleagues went on strike in March 1986. The union claimed that Icahn was asking for concessions in salary and benefits of 45 percent, compared with concessions of 30 percent that Icahn demanded from TWA's pilots and 15 percent from the machinists. TWA officials broke the strike in six weeks, with the help of newly hired employes.

Dente, who said she has taken an $8,000-a-year pay cut in her new job, said she is one of the lucky ones. Many of her colleagues have not found work, she said.

She prays every Sunday at mass for those fellow attendants, Dente said. In addition, she prays that the pope will intervene in this dispute. "Maybe the Good Lord will get to him," she said.