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After 20 Years, Vatican Press Official Steps Down, Reflects on Momentous Changes

He will be succeeded by American journalist Greg Burke.

This report is provided by Vatican Radio:

The number two man at the Vatican’s Press Office retires 31 January after working under three Popes.  Deputy Director Fr. Ciro Benedettini is stepping down after twenty years of service to the Holy See.  He will be succeeded by American journalist Greg Burke.

In an interview in Italian with Vatican Radio’s Alessandro Gisotti, Fr. Ciro – as he is affectionately known by journalists the world over – reflects on how the world of Vatican communications has changed since he took up his post and shares his feelings about moving on..

It is with “a mixture of feelings, some joy and some sadness,” that Fr. Ciro says he will be leaving the Press Office, but those feelings are dominated, he adds, by “joy… because I am grateful to the Lord who gave me the opportunity to work for the Church, in the service of three Popes – and what Popes!”

One of those pontiffs, he observes, was Pope John Paul II, a boss whom Fr. Ciro describes as “holy.”   “Not everyone has had the chance to be that close to a saint:  not just having seen him, but having spoken to him, having eaten together, to have served him for so many years.”

He admits he departs after twenty years “with a bit of sadness” – mainly because of his closeness to the Press Office staff towards whom he feels great affection. He points out that he also enjoyed “ a great relationship” with most of the journalists from the international press who report on the Vatican.

Fr. Ciro speaks of what he describes as the “radical changes” in the way the Vatican has communicated over the past two decades.  He recalls that at Christmastime 1995, one year after his arrival at the Press Hall, he and then-chief Vatican Spokesman Joaquim Navarro-Valls “managed to install the Internet.”

“It’s one of my badges of honor – that is, to have been part of this team that brought forward this new means of communication that is so important to the Holy See.”

The process of digitalization, he observes, has advanced to such an extent as to have reduced the role of paper to a mere complimentary part of the Press Office’s daily work.

There’s been an “explosion” in the world of information, Fr. Ciro notes.  “About twenty years ago (preparing) the Press Review and monitoring the Press was simple: a dozen newspapers and magazines, and it was done. Now with blogs, with social media, there is such an explosion of information that it has become really difficult to keep tabs on it.”

Though social media is not as “official” as reputable news agencies generally are, Fr. Ciro says it often wields great influence. “You cannot disregard it.”

He recalls that in his early years at the Vatican Press Office,  journalists looking for the latest Vatican news were “forced” to come to the press hall.  Now, with the Internet, he says, “we pursue them;  we send them Vatican information that follows them wherever they are! And this is obviously an advantage in terms of the immediacy of information, of speed.  On the other hand, however, you no longer look a journalist in the face, in their eyes and I think it’s a big loss. Many journalists, we see them only on special occasions …”

Fr. Ciro says anyone working in Church communications should remember first and foremost, theirs is a service.  “All information and in particular, Church information must be understood…as a service to the Church, a service to others, a service to the truth. We must be aware that, in giving the news, we give to others the means for interpreting the world around us. And so we must show humility, prudence and great respect in giving this information. I think one of the big problems is that of being in a rush, which forces one to be superficial.

Fr. Ciro says he is fond of one episode in his long career:  “I remember something that happened actually a year before I was hired here to the Press Hall.  I was here for the Synod and the Holy Father, along with the linguistic secretaries, invited me to dinner. I remember the Holy Father, who was right in front of me – just casually  in front of me – with his questioning eyes: what do you do? What don’t you do? … And I saw the curiosity of this man, and I thought that we often say that our superiors are locked in an ivory tower, far away, far from reality… This Pope – there were 6 of us – he made everyone tell him what he did…what he thought of the Synod and all the rest! So he really wanted to be  informed. This is one of the best memories I have of John Paul II.”

The Deputy Press Director recalls the late Pope’s last days and his funeral not so much as sad events, but as “epic.” “We were ‘wrapped up’- I would say – (embraced) by the people, but they were silent, just whispering prayers.  And then, I remember that when we announced his death, journalists brought us their condolences and there were people who were outside the Press Hall, under the portico, asking us to allow them in so we could all share condolences – and we did – because we all felt that we had lost someone very dear. I call it ‘epic’ because there was such an osmosis between us and the crowd: the crowd were our feelings, our feelings were the crowd’s. Of course, we felt the pain of the loss of the Pope, but – as a whole – there was this triumph of unity in the Holy Father and thus also a triumph of faith, faith in eternal life.”

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