“Beautiful and good,” should be said of Paloma Garcia Ovejero, but the young Spanish Vatican expert, appointed last Monday Vice-Director of the Holy See Press Office, is not the type to be described in simple phrases or labels. For her, this very important appointment, unprecedented in history, fits in the “logic of normality” that permeates Francis’ pontificate, the Argentine Pope she so admires and has followed over the past three years on all his international trips.
In the end, it is about “a service to the Church,” which the journalist wishes to render, with some fear but great tenacity and a strong sense of responsibility, the same with which, over the last four years, she has carried out her work as correspondent in Rome for Cope, radio of the Spanish Bishops. A professional always “on the spot,” as is said in journalistic jargon, always ready, no matter what time of day it is, to answer her cell phone and tell in a few seconds, with extreme fidelity and precision, what is happening in the Sacred Palaces, or herself being the reporter of news through her Twitter account, which is followed by 14,900 people.
However Paloma, whose name comes from the Virgin of the Dove of her city, Madrid, does not like the piling up of praises. In a conversation with ZENIT, she prefers to talk about the “new adventure,” which she will undertake August 1 beside Greg Burke, the American journalist who is succeeding Father Federico Lombardi in the role of Vatican Press Office director.
Here is the interview.
ZENIT: Shock or surprise? How are we to describe this unexpected appointment?
It was a surprise for me, but it seems to me to be a moment in which the Church is having many surprises. Greg Burke’s appointment and mine are only a small part of the reform of the Vatican’s communication, which began a few months ago and which will continue for some years. Let’s say it’s the most visible part.
ZENIT: What is stronger, the joy for or the fear of this new task?
Half and half … Right now, I’m poised.
ZENIT: And when did you learn of the appointment? Tell us what happened.
I learned about it three days before it was communicated officially, namely on Friday, July 8th. I received an anonymous phone call in the morning. They are usually from the Vatican. In fact, it was the secretary of Monsignor Angelo Becciu, who called me to the Secretariat of State. At that moment, I didn’t think or imagine anything. I went there and I was told that the Pope wished to ask me something. Obviously, this left me somewhat shocked, but at the same time it filled me with joy and a strong sense of responsibility.
ZENIT: So, you went home, to Spain, to tell your parents …
Yes, the day after. I learned it on Friday morning. That evening, I talked about it with my boss, the president of Cope, who wished me well and gave me all his support. Then on Saturday, I took the first plane and went home to Madrid, to tell my parents and my brothers and sisters. I am the eldest of seven children and aunt of nine nephews, two of whom are about to be born. We all had lunch together, I told them the wonderful news and I returned to Rome that evening.
ZENIT: And how did your family react?
They were very astonished but at the same time they were happy because they understood that this is simply a change of mission. It’s a different service to the Church: first it was to the Spanish <Church> through the bishops’ radio; now to the universal Church, but always a service.
ZENIT: We were talking about the sense of responsibility. Does this formula, “the first woman at the summit of the Vatican Press Office” with which everyone now describes you, put pressure on you?
No, not at all. For me, to be a woman does not mean that I feel a greater responsibility upon me. It was never so, either at home with my siblings or at work where I was never favored or discriminated because of the fact of being a woman. When I arrived in the Vatican Press Office in 2012, I met many women, journalists or employees, who had been working there for years. For me, more than talking about categories it is right to talk of normality, or better of the logic of normality that I believe is the logic that the Holy Father is following.
ZENIT: Are you already operating in and from the Press Office in these days? Have you already left your work at Cope?
I am still in a transitional phase. I’m still working a bit for Cope and a bit for the Vatican. It’s strange, because until August 1, I don’t have the functions of the Vice-Directress, as Greg Burke is still in that role, beside Father Lombardi. Let’s say that little by little I’m closing a fundamental chapter of my life. This means getting through many bureaucratic practices, making many calls (her cell phone is always ‘busy’) and especially thanking the individuals who helped me up to now and who enabled me to be so happy as a correspondent, especially my colleagues and the leaders of Cope.
ZENIT: You have followed Pope Francis on all his trips, where Father Federico Lombardi was always present. What have you learned from him about the Vatican’s communication?
I have always admired the wisdom, the humility, and the discretion of Father Lombardi, especially his capacity to remain calm before any situation he was facing. I would like to have, or at least acquire in time, at least 5% of his many qualities. [smiling]
ZENIT: In his 10 years as Director of the Press Office Father Lombardi has had to address, among other things, complex cases never seen before in the history of the Church: pedophilia, Vatileaks, Benedict’s renunciation, to mention but a few. If you were to face such situations, how do you think you will address them?
The future is unforeseeable. When we find ourselves before a river, we shall try to cross it with a bridge, or to say it in English: “Don’t cross the bridge, before you come to it.”
ZENIT: Up to a few days ago, you were “on the other side,” namely, on that of journalists. What contribution do you believe you can make in this new role of yours?
Certainly, my experience, my journalist’s view. I have been here in this position in the Press Office for four years and I have understood the real needs of all my colleagues. There is a Spanish proverb that says: We have been cooks before being friars; in Italian, “We were cooks before being monks,” which means that we know how things are done in the kitchen before they arrive on the table. For me, it is the contrary now: We have been friars before being cooks.
ZENIT: Therefore, in other words, you must learn to cook?
I cook very well. Haven’t they ever told you about my paella? (She laughs).