FOR THE FIRST TIME A WOMAN – A VICE-CHIEF OF THE PAPAL PRESS OFFICE
11 July 2016 is a particular Day in the Press Office of the Holy See. At that time there was a farewell ceremony of its previous director – an Italian Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, who had had this function for the last 10 years, exactly from 11 July 2006. The touching farewell ceremony was presided over by prelate priest Dario Vigano, a prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, to which all Vatican media belong. The meeting was also an occasion to introduce a new chief of the Press Office – an American Greg Burke, the previous vice-director and the vice-director of the Office – a Spanish woman Paloma Garcia Ovejero. Officially they will take over their posts on 1 August 2016. Particularly emotions were caused by the nomination of Paloma, who is the first woman on this high and responsible post in the papal Press Office. I met her in 2012 when she arrived at Rome. She had already graduated from journalistic studies at Coplutenese University in Madrid where she dealt with studies of Basque, later at the New York University she was getting specialized in strategies of management and social communication. Since 1998 she has worked for the Spanish Radio Cope, whose the editor-in-chief she became after a few years. In 2012 she became a correspondent of Radio Cope in Rome and Vatican, also cooperating with various TV stations and magazines. Her work was made easier by her good knowledge of foreign languages – beside Spanish she also speaks English, Italian and Chinese. On the day of nomination announcement I met with Paloma to congratulate her and say good wishes to her. That meeting also became an occasion for a friendly talk.
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WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - When did you find out about the nomination for the post of the vice-director of the Press Office of the Holy See?
PALOMA GARCIA OVEJERO: - On Friday 8 July 2016 I got a phone call from the Secretariat of the State with a question whether I was in Rome and I was asked to come to Vatican immediately because a substitute for general matters was waiting for me. I went there as quickly as possible and after 20 minutes I met with archbishop Angelo Becciu. Without any formalities, the substitute told me: ‘I have got an offer for you from the Pope’. Not knowing yet what it concerned, I answered that I said ‘yes’ to every papal offer. Then archbishop Becciu explained me that Francis wanted me to help him, holding the function of the vice-director of the Press Office.
– How did you react to this offer?
– When I heard it, I stopped breathing, but after a while I thought that if it was the will of the Holy Father, I had to be at his disposal. For the last 4 years I had been serving the Spanish Church as a correspondent in Rome and Vatican of the radio of the Spanish Episcopate, so I thought that now I would be able to serve to the whole Church, if it was the Pope’s will.
– For the last years, it was you, the journalist, who used the services of the Press Office and its previous chiefs – Fr. Federico Lombardi or Fr. Ciro Benedettini. What do journalists expect from the directors of the Press Office, so what will they demand from you?
– Certainly, I will be at the disposal of my colleagues-journalists with whom I worked for many years. But I would like to emphasize one thing – I have never been disappointed with work of the previous directors of the Press Office. Fr. Lombardi has always been understandable and clear in contacts, and he is also a person of great heart and humility. I also learnt from him to experience my faith peacefully.
– Does it mean that you consider Fr. Federico as an example to follow?
– I find him as an example of a chief of the Press Office, who attracts everyone with his goodness. He could not always tell us, journalists, everything, but it is obvious.
– You are at the helm of the Press Office beside your former colleague Greg Burke. A Spanish woman beside an American man…
– When I arrived at Rome, Greg had already been working for the Secretariat of the State of the Holy See, therefore I did not have an occasion to get to know him better, like other colleagues. But he was always a trustworthy and discreet person for me. Whereas, the very fact that foreigners – an American man and a Spanish woman - -manage the papal Press Office proves making the institution international, similarly as the Roman Curia became international. Besides that, most Vatican inhabitants are foreigners who mostly speak English and Spanish.