New Face of the Vatican
After 22 years, Pope’s spokesman changes
BY EDWARD PENTIN
July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 9:00 AM
For months, speculation had been rife as to who would succeed Joaquin Navarro-Valls as head of the Holy See Press Office.
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
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
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 creativity.
But he knew the business thoroughly.
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 languages).
In 2000, he helped launch the
station’s live FM channel in the
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 Marconi testifies.”
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
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.
writes from Rome
Vatican Press Office Changing of the Guard
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
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
Native of the Italian
He received a licentiate in
philosophy in 1965 from the Jesuit Aloisianum Faculty of Theology in Gallarate,
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
Joaquín Navarro-Valls (right)
served 22 years as director of the
He was president of the Foreign
Press Association in
John Paul II appointed
On the morning of July 11, Vatican
Radio reported that Walter Veltroni, mayor of
“He has been an important point of
reference in the extraordinary bond that
The note issued by the
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