A “Master of communication at the service of the Church,” is how Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, former Director of the Holy See Press Office, described his predecessor, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who died on July 5, 2017 at the age of 80.
In a column published by Vatican Radio in Italian, he praises Navarro-Valls for “a service of inestimable value to the Church.”
“I met Navarro-Valls personally when I came to work at the Vatican as the Program Director of Vatican Radio, at the beginning of the year 1991,” wrote the President of the Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation. At his side in the “papal entourage” during John Paul II’s numerous journeys, the Jesuit remembers him as an “agreeable, friendly and cordial” man.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, he noted, was known “as the brilliant and competent ‘spokesman’ of the Pope. And “even if that was not the official name of his role — which should have been rather “Director of the Press Office” – it must be said that in his case it was an altogether appropriate name.”
The Spanish layman, stresses Father Lombardi, “considered it absolutely necessary . . . to have a direct relationship with the Pope, in order to know his thought and line with certitude and clarity, and to be able to present himself to the world of the press and to public opinion as an authoritative interpreter.”
“During his very long service under John Paul II’s pontificate, from 1984 to (the Pope’s) death in 2005, he was in fact very close to the Pope,” and he became “one of the important figures of this extraordinary pontificate, not only because of his evident public visibility, but also for his role of intervention and advice. John Paul II had great confidence in him.”
Recalling his diplomatic missions during world conferences, Father Lombardi remembers him as an “ideal personage as point of reference of the Vatican,” a figure whose “intelligence, elegance and relational capacities” were “eminent” and who possessed “a great genius to present the news . . . in a brilliant, attractive and concise way.”
John Paul II’s choice of Joaquin Navarro-Valls was “undoubtedly a very happy choice,” he says. First because he was a layman, “professionally competent and appreciated by his journalist colleagues.” Then, being a consecrated numerary of the Opus Dei, he was “a person one could count on, given his devotion and faithful love of the Church and of the Pope.”
“The exceptional length” – 22 years – of his mandate at the head of the Press Office, “his authority, efficiency and the quality of his work universally recognized” made of his direction “a time that will probably remain unique” in the history of the Vatican’s communication. Joaquin Navarro-Valls “rendered a service of inestimable value to the Church,” he added.
“I always regarded him as a Master in the way of carrying out his service and I never imagined I would be called to succeed him,” confides Father Lombardi
And, by way of conclusion, “He has always remained a friend for me, an example of discreet, true and profound spiritual life, fully integrated with his work, a model of engagement at the service of the Pope and of the Church, a Master in communication, even if he was, for me, inimitable.