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Joaquin Navarro-Valls was the Director of the Vatican’s press office for more than 20 years, stepping down in 2006.
His role as gave him perhaps the highest visibility of any one person in the Vatican during the long reign of Pope John Paul II, with the exception of the Pope himself. He also worked closely with Pope Benedict for two years and spoke to euronews about his experiences.
Alberto De Filippis, euronews: Mr Navarro-Valls, is it fair to say there have been some noticable changes in the handling of the media, in the Holy See’s communication strategy under Pope John Paul and also under Benedict XVI.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls: “Benoit XVI is someone who is extremely aware about these subjects. He’s taken advice on several occasions where matters have been particularly sensitives, such as the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz for example, a difficult situation especially for a German pontiff. There have been other difficult situations, and he has always been perfectly receptive to suggestions or open to dialogue, not over the content of his speeches, but the form or rather where or how to say things.”
euronews: It’s been a bit unfortunate for Benedict in a way that he’s succeeded the most media friendly Pope in the history of the Catholic church. A person who knew how to communicate in comparison to Benedict, whom to me, seems a bit more timid.
JNV: “I don’t consider Benedict to be timid. This is someone who before he became Pope was fraternising with leading intellectuals. He was comfortable exchanging ideas with non-believers or people with different religious views. The importance of Benedict XVI was most of all over the ideas of our time. He’s never been interested in just winning an argument but more about trying to convince others by the force of his ideas. On that he was brilliant.”
euronews: John Paul suffered right up until the end while Benedict has resigned, what does that change?
JNV: “Has it changed, or will it change something from now on? I don’t thing anything has changed. We’ve been used to a historical fact, Pope’s don’t resign. But no-one said it was impossible. It’s a historical fact but not a legal one because Vatican law allows for it.”
euronews: What is your favourite or best experience of working with Benedict?
JNV: “I remember the day before John Paul II died, we knew he was dying, he was suffering with breathing difficulties. I recall the moment Joseph Ratzinger, who was the oldest Cardinal, went into his room to say his farewell. Did he know that he was on the point of dying? I don’t know. I saw him take the Pope’s hand, which was very cold as the Pope was suffering from serious circulation problems, and he looked him in the eyes and said the following: “thank you heavenly father for all that I’ve learned from you during your reign.” That was the goodbye mesage from Joseph Ratzinger to John Paul just before he died.”