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After 22 years, Pope’s spokesman changes
BY EDWARD PENTIN Register Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — The new Vatican
spokesman was a surprise, looked at one way. But in another way, he’s the
For months, speculation had been
rife as to who would succeed Joaquin Navarro-Valls as head of the Holy See
The Spanish doctor of psychiatry
had been dropping plenty of hints that he would soon step down after 22 years
in the post, and so rumors abounded about his probable successor.
Yet few predicted that Jesuit
Father Federico Lombardi would be given the position. The Jesuit Father from
Saluzzo in northern Italy
already had two heavy responsibilities: running Vatican Radio and CTV, the Vatican’s
television channel. It was unlikely that he would also be given one of the most
demanding positions in the Roman Curia. Or so we thought.
A closer look at the man and the
appointment will show that Pope Benedict XVI’s choice is wise, pragmatic and,
in retrospect, not so surprising after all.
On an organizational level, putting the head of Vatican
radio and television in charge of overall press relations could prove a
masterful move. It will, above all, help streamline Vatican
communications that until now have been disparate and poorly coordinated.
But more interesting is the kind
of man the Holy Father has chosen to fulfill this important role.
I should know. He was my boss for
two years when I worked in the English section of Vatican Radio (2002-2004). At
the time, he was program director of the Jesuit-run station and was well liked
and respected. He took a keen interest in each member of his staff, knowing
almost each of us by name even though we numbered more than 400.
He speaks softly, is meek and
self-effacing and has a gentle, wry sense of humor. He dealt mostly with the
directors of the different language sections, but he was always available to
his employees and wouldn’t hesitate to invite you to his office if you had a
query you wanted to raise with him. His management style was largely
“hands-off” as he gave section heads a certain autonomy that fostered greater
But he knew the business
In the 15 years he was program
director, Father Lombardi was keen that the radio broadcast (known as the
“grandmother” of all radio stations after it was founded in 1931 by radio
inventor Guglielmo Marconi) keep abreast of all the technological advances in
this information age.
Under his watch, the station
embraced podcasting and the Internet (the Vatican Radio website is now one of
the few in the world to publish pages in a multiplicity of alphanumeric
In 2000, he helped launch the
station’s live FM channel in the Rome
area combining chat shows, live outside broadcasts and regular news bulletins.
He oversaw the advent of satellite broadcasting and rebroadcasting of Vatican
Radio programs by other stations — one of the radio’s fastest growing areas.
And, in the 1990s, he made sure Vatican
Radio was one of the first stations in the world to adopt digital editing
hardware, superseding even the BBC.
“We may not be first in every
field but we are well-placed in terms of technology,” he told the Register late
last year. “And this is part of our tradition, as our early association with
Pope Benedict XVI probably hopes
that Father Lombardi brings the same things to the Holy See Press Office. Just
as he saw the station as a “content producer” rather than simply radio, it is
expected that he will embrace all the means possible to effectively disseminate
what happens in the universal Church to the world’s press.
“The mission is clear: to serve
the universal Church, to serve the Pope,” he told the Register, “to be at the
disposition of the Church in the world.”
Father Lombardi, 63, has also been
heavily involved in trying to resolve an ongoing dispute between the station
and the Italian authorities.
Vatican Radio is accused of
breaking regulations on wave emissions after some local people complained that
the station’s transmitters in a suburb of Rome
had caused leukemia and other illnesses.
From the beginning, Father
Lombardi has contended that the radio was operating within accepted statutes,
and puts the case down to excessive sensitivity about health and pollution, and
the possibility that some individuals are using the case to win damages.
Throughout the dispute, he has been calmly confident of the station’s position.
But it is in communications, not
the law, where his vocation lies. And it is there where he is likely be of the
same mind as the Holy Father, recognizing the need for reform, but enacting it
slowly and prudently.
“In the Vatican we have a tradition not for
revolutions but for taking things step by step — an evolution”, he said last
year. “If steps are little, you look back and realize you have gone a long way.
That’s my perspective: little steps go a long way.”
writes from Rome
Vatican Press Office
Changing of the Guard
VATICAN CITY — Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi
(right), newly appointed director of the Vatican
press office, has worked in the Catholic journalism world for more than 30
On July 11, Pope Benedict XVI
accepted the resignation of Joaquín Navarro-Valls as director of the Vatican
press office and appointed Father Lombardi, who will continue as general
director of Vatican Radio and director of the Vatican Television
Father Lombardi thanked the Holy
Father for the trust he is placing in him with this appointment.
In a letter addressed to his
fellow journalists, Father Lombardi expressed his gratitude — also on behalf of
his colleagues — to Navarro-Valls, pointing out the latter’s long service “with
exceptional competence, intelligence and dedication.”
The Jesuit also expressed his
commitment to serve the Pope and the work of journalists as Vatican
Native of the Italian province of Cuneo,
where he was born on Aug. 29, 1942, Father Lombardi entered the novitiate of
the Jesuit’s Turin
province, in Avigliana, in 1960.
He received a licentiate in
philosophy in 1965 from the Jesuit Aloisianum Faculty of Theology in Gallarate,
province of Varese. Over the next four years, he was
an assistant to students in the Jesuits’ University
College in Turin. He received a licentiate in
mathematics from the local university.
The new Vatican
spokesman was ordained a priest in 1972. A year later he obtained a licentiate
in theology from the Jesuit Phil-Teol Hochshule St. Georgen in the German city
of Frankfurt, and became a member of the college of writers of the review La Civitá Cattolica (the oldest of the still active Italian publications) and
its editor, until 1977 when he became its deputy director.
From 1984 to 1990 Father Lombardi
was provincial of the Jesuits’ Italian province.
He was Vatican Radio’s program
director from 1991 to 2005, when he became its general director. Since 2001, he
has also been director of the Vatican
Joaquín Navarro-Valls (right)
served 22 years as director of the Vatican
Native of Cartagena, Spain,
where he was born in 1936, Navarro-Valls was a psychiatrist before becoming a
He was president of the Foreign
Press Association in Italy,
founder and director of the Diagonal
review, correspondent of Nuestro Tiempo and of the Spanish newspaper ABC in Italy
and the Middle East.
John Paul II appointed
Navarro-Valls as Vatican spokesman on Nov. 4,
On the morning of July 11, Vatican
Radio reported that Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, sent each messages: congratulations to
Father Lombardi for his appointment, and gratitude to Navarro-Valls.
“He has been an important point of
reference in the extraordinary bond that Rome
had with its honorary citizen John Paul II and then with the new Pontiff,” the
mayor said. “All Romans will remember him with esteem and affection.”
The note issued by the Vatican press office July 11, reported the Holy Father’s
gratitude to Navarro-Valls for his “long and generous service.”