Vatican Spokesman Considers 3 Popes, 3 Noteworthy Communicators

Says It’s Been No Problem That Francis Doesn’t Speak English

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The Vatican spokesman has highlighted the unique communicative gifts of the current and previous two Pontiffs, saying that the Popes’ communications teams try to do their work well, so that the papal messages are not only transmitted but also understood.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, made this observation when he traveled to Spain this week for an award given in the framework of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Toledo’s Radio Santa Maria and of 15TH of the diocesan TV Channel.

Father Lombardi gave a talk titled “Reflections and Experiences on the Communication of Three Popes,” in which he shared his experience and some anecdotes from his 20 years of work in the Vatican close to the three last Pontiffs.

In regard to John Paul II, he pointed out that the Polish Pontiff was very conscious of the importance of the media “as an indispensable way to spread his message,” without implying that he “hid anything” or allowed himself to be “conditioned or pressured.” To achieve this, John Paul II was in the habit of holding a working lunch with his team of collaborators when he returned from his visits abroad, “to know the echo of his trips in the media and if his message had reached them or not.”Recalling Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he said that the relation of this Pope with the press “was more difficult” and, although there were good moments, there were also complicated ones. One example is what happened on the trip to Africa, on the moral assessment of the use of the condom or when he had to face the criticisms to the Church for the sexual abuse of children by priests, to which he responded, Father Lombardi said, “with great intellectual nobility.”

He added that Pope Ratzinger “never discarded a difficult question” and he praised “his enormous capacity to express his honest thought, clearly, orderly and concisely, without uncertainties,” which made him “a master of communication.”

Then he spoke about the present Pontiff, Francis, praising his “human, direct, frank and courageous closeness,” reflected in the “embraces and kisses that he generously lavishes.” Father Lombardi joked when he said that what most “worried” him at the beginning was that the Argentine Pontiff should feel so comfortable speaking only in Spanish and Italian, while his two predecessors were “polyglots.”

After some time, however, he saw the “great interest” that Pope Francis awakens in people, which demonstrates that, although he does “not speak English” this is compensated for by his “extraordinary charisma as a communicator,” as well as “his eagerness to eliminate every form of distance” and his being “an inexhaustible source of images” which take his message of closeness and mercy to all the corners of the world.

Father Lombardi added that “they all transmitted the Gospel, being credible” in spreading “the message of love and acceptance of God of all persons.” In “comparison with the previous Pontificate,” Father Lombardi pointed out that the Vatican has not initiated “a new strategy of communication in the sense of a previous study of the activities, addresses or gestures of the Pope in order to attract the attention of those present and have success. There is no strategy planned from an office.” However, it can be said that the Pope’s collaborators try to do their work well “in the field of communication, using the appropriate tools to spread the images and words, in order to facilitate the proper understanding and interpretation of them.”

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