SAYING GOODBYE TO A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

There will be no updates on this page for a few days as I’m going to the hospital tomorrow morning in the hopes of resolving the problem of the infection in my right ankle, and the difficulty and pain I’ve had walking for weeks now as a result. The main issue is that I have severe allergic relations to every antibiotic I’ve ever taken, save one, Ciproxin. I had been put on Ciproxin for the infection but learned, when I finally saw an orthopedic doctor, that it was very bad for tendons so we stopped the daily doses. At the moment, the doctors I have seen feel the only way for me to heal is to have antibiotics in a controlled medial environment in the event of a reaction. My big hope is that I will finally find an effective antibiotic that I’m not allergic to!

I enter the Pio XI clinic tomorrow, July 11. It will be 15 years to the day that one of their best doctors performed a lengthy, life-saving surgery on me. I felt things would turn out well at the time as July 11 was my Dad’s birthday and he was where he could do some good!

By the way, hospitals/ospedali are state-run in Italy and clinica are private institutions, usually run by religious orders. Pio XI is run by a Spanish Order of nursing nuns – beautiful people.

So if you have an extra Ave in coming days, send it my way!

SAYING GOODBYE TO A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, doctor, diplomat, journalist and confidante to Popes was laid to rest on Friday, July 7, remaining in his adopted city of Rome.

With his many talents, his phenomenal ability to listen, to see both the big and the small picture, to “read the signs of the times,” to work out the knots in a tough situation or conversation, he truly was a man for all seasons. This charming Spaniard was a diplomat through and through, a skilled professional – both as physician with a specialty in psychiatry and journalist – and a man whose Catholic faith was his true identity card. Above all, he was, at all times, a consummate gentleman.

And he had a great sense of humor, laughing easily and often. He loved a joke and could tell as good story as well as anyone. And did I mention his love for sports, tennis in particular. I  was told you want to play a game with Navarro-Valls, not against him!

Joaquin was unique in so many ways, large and small, not the least of which was being a superb, loyal friend to so many people, people from all walks and stations of life, people of diverse cultures, languages and backgrounds. His warm smile and ability with languages always opened doors. I am blessed to have been among his friends. He was a dear friend and, in countless ways a mentor.

As so many of you know, Joaquin led the Holy See Press Office for 22 years, from 1984 to 2006.

In November 1984, Joaquin was president of the Foreign Press Club in Rome and was presiding at a press conference with the late Gianni Agnelli of FIAT when he was summoned to be at the Vatican by 1:30 pm. That summons turned out to be lunch with Pope John Paul who asked him how the press office was functioning. Was it serving the media well? Was it serving the Church well? What could and should be improved?

Joaquin told me that story over dinner one night when we were in China with a Holy See delegation, adding that the Holy Father insisted that Joaquin answer his questions truthfully, not tell him what he thought the Pope might want to hear.

Not long after that meal, Joaquin was named to head the press office. And did he make changes!  Both John Paul and Navarro-Valls were very aware of the power of the media, of communications. Years later, Joaquin told journalists that before he came to the Vatican only about 15 percent of the news about the Pope and the Church originated in the Vatican, that is, briefings or press conference or publication of Vatican documents. Several years after Navarro-Valls began redoing things, it turned out that 85 percent of the news about the Church came from the press office.

Some of the big changes? Bulletins and other documents started to come out in different languages. The press office was totally remodeled in 1994 and ready for all the electronic innovations of the future. When needed, translators were present for press conferences, settling into the new booths provided in the press office renovation. After I showed him around the press office one day, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See told me that the White House correspondents would have every reason to be jealous of such a terrific structure and setting!

In 1984 I was covering the Vatican for the National Catholic Register and Joaquin and I first became friends soon after his nomination. That was the beginning of so many wonderful adventures. I could write a mini volume, not just a Joan’s Rome column!

I was honored and privileged to have been a member of four Holy See delegations to very important United Nations conferences in the 90s: Cairo in September 1994 on Population; Copenhagen March 1995, an economic summit; Beijing September 1995, the conference on Women, and June 1996 Istanbul, a conference on human settlements.

Cairo and Beijing in particular were extraordinary experiences in so many ways, both personal and professional.

Joaquin was added to the Cairo delegation a bit over a month before it was due to depart. He told me that he told the secretary of State that he would go if he was allowed to have Joan Lewis as his assistant as liaison with the press! And thus it was that I got my first diplomatic passport! The rest, as they say, is history.

Those were heady times and experiences and some day I hope to find the time to write in depth about those adventures.

On the rare occasions that we had time to eat a meal during those conferences, I asked Joaquin a thousand questions – about his family, his work before Rome, his work at the press office, how he came to be named, etc. Obviously lots of questions about the Holy Father! They were very close and that relationship was mutually beneficial throughout St. John Paul’s pontificate.

At the end of our time in Beijing (the conferences were usually about 3 weeks long) Joaquin gave me a small gift. He said he went shopping for the staff of the press office and simply did not know what to get for me. He choose a small pair of silk embroidered slippers, and told me when he saw these elegant slippers, he immediately thought of me. They are on my desk as I write. Gracias, amigo!

In August 1993, a year before the Cairo conference, World Youth Day was celebrated in Denver and Joaquin made sure I was part of the papal party. For starters, I spent five days at Regis University for the Youth Forum that preceded WYD. My main job was to liaise with the press. I did my best to honor the oly See, Joaquin as spokesman and the Coun tilHoly See, Joaquin and the press office and the (now former) Council for the Laity who organizes youth days.

Again, very heady and historic days with lots of interesting stories.

Joaquin’s birthday was November 16 and, for the 15 years I was at the press office, I always spent the night before preparing a cake for the office party. For 15 years I came up with a new theme for the decoration. Once I decorated the cake as a Spanish passport, another time as a Holy See passport, another time as St. Peter’s dome or the Spanish flag or a radio studio. I can’t even remember them all right now. No one got to see the cake until it was unveiled at the office party.  I always got a thank you note from Joaquin who once wrote that he never slept the night before his birthday, wondering exactly what theme Joan would choose for the decoration!

On another occasion I invited the staff of the Vatican Information service for a pre-Christmas luncheon at my home. I had roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes – the whole Thanksgiving/Christmas menu – AND a cake that was shaped and decorated like a Christmas wreath! When Joaquin arrived he went directly into the kitchen, asked if he could help and then spotted my electric carving knife. He asked if I would allow him to carve the turkey, “given that I am a doctor and know how to cut things up!” and he proceeded with skill and dexterity to perfectly carve our main course!

In December 2001, upon returning to Rome from a nephew’s funeral in Oregon, I noticed something was seriously wrong with my left eye. I went to the Vatican eye doctor who seemed worried and he said I should go to the eye hospital in Rome immediately to verify what he suspected – a detached retina.

It was just that and I informed my colleagues where I was, that I was having multiple tests and would be admitted to the hospital. As I was waiting to go into what would be a two-hour exam, who walked into the waiting room but Joaquin! I was scared speechless that I would lose my sight and burst into years as I saw a friendly face. The eye surgeon who examined me was a very talented woman from Genoa, very motherly and caring. She spent much of the time explaining everything she was doing, including an extraordinarily detailed drawing of my eye. She answered my questions and Joaquin’s – he spent the entire two hours with us. I am not sure I ever conveyed to him what those two hours meant to me. That is what Joaquin did for friends, who he was for friends.

In December 2014, having just marked 20 years at the press office, Joaquin arranged for all of us at the press office to have an audience with the Holy Father, clearly ailing at this point. I had met John Paul quite a number of times but was very emotional about this meeting for, in my heart, I felt it would be the last time I’d see him.

I spent the first part of the morning in my office, learning how to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Polish. I wrote the phrases down on a yellow Post-it note and almost glued it to my left hand, repeating the phrases many times to myself. I kept glancing at it when we were in the papal library, each of us awaiting our turn to greet our beloved Holy Father.

John Paul was barely able to keep his head up at this stage of his Parkinson’s disease and smiling had become close to impossible. I felt like we were intruding in a moment when he should have been resting. However an aide read a statement and we knew the Pope wanted to do this for Joaquin.

When it was my turn, I knelt to touch his outstretched hand, recited my Polish version of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and immediately was looking into John Paul’s wonderful blue eyes. No one knew I was going to do this, and later Joaquin told me that was the nicest gesture I ever could have made for John Paul. “Did you notice,” Joaquin pointed out, “that the Pope raised his head only when you spoke Polish?”

Many years, many stories – these are just a few – and countless memories of time spent with a very great man, the Church’s Man for All Seasons.

 

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HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS – MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

Two post-Castro stories, a papal spokesman and a bishop….

HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS

(La Stampa newspaper) – The Polish Pope’s former spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the late Fidel Castro “wanted to know everything there was to know about John Paul II.”

“Fidel Castro kept me talking for six hours. He was fascinated by John Paul II and although he was jealous of his inner life. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper… I told him he was a lucky man because the Pope prayed for him every day. For once he was silent.”

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On the occasion of Pope Wojtyla’s visit to Cuba in January 1998, the role of Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul II’s spokesman, went far beyond his official duties as director of the Holy See Press Office. He talked about it with Andrea Tornielli in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa. (It is customary in Italian media to often use the family name of a Pope when referencing him, thus Pope Wojtyla).

How did the Pope’s visit to the island come about after he had helped bring down the Berlin Wall, one of the last bastions of communism? “John Paul II had been sending delegates to Cuba for a decade or so. The Vatican “minister for foreign affairs”, Jean Louis Tauran also went. The Pope was eager to visit the island but he still hadn’t received an invitation. Finally, in November 1996, Castro came to Rome for an FAO meeting, he was received in the Vatican and formally invited the Pope.”

How did you prepare for the visit? “We worked for the whole of 1997 to organise it. Three months prior to the visit, in October that year, I went to Havana and met Fidel. It was a long meeting that went on for six hours and ended at around three in the morning. Castro was fascinated by John Paul II, he wanted to know everything there was to know about him, who his family was, what his life had been like. He wanted to know more about Wojtyla as a man and gave away his admiration for him. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper. I said to him: “Mr. President, I envy you”. “Why?” “Because the Pope prays for you every day, he prays that a man of your education may find the way of the Lord again.” For once, the Cuban president was silent.”

What did you ask Castro on behalf of the Holy See? “I explained to him that now that the date of the visit was set – for 21 January 1998 – it would be interesting if it were a great success. ‘Cuba needs to surprise the word,” I told him. Fidel agreed. So I added something about the surprises the Pope was expecting. I asked Castro for Christmas, which was just around the corner, to be celebrated as an official holiday for the first time since the start of the Revolution.”

How did the Líder Máximo react? “He said it would be very difficult as Christmas fell right in the middle of the sugar cane harvesting season. To which I responded: ‘But the Holy Father would like to be able to publicly thank you for this gesture once he lands in Havana.’ After a long discussion, Castro finally said yes, although he did add; ‘But it could be for this year only.’ All I said was: ‘Great, the Pope will be grateful to you for this. And as for next year, we’ll see.’ As we know, to this day, Christmas is still celebrated as a public holiday in Cuba.”

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How did Pope Wojtyla view Castro? “On the flight to Havana, a journalist asked the Pope what advice he would give to the US president regarding the stance it should adopt towards Cuba: ‘To change!’ he replied. Then he was asked what he expected from Cuba’s president and this is how he responded: ‘I expect him to explain his true nature to me, as a man, as a leader and as a commander in chief’. I wasn’t on that flight, I was already in Havana. I received the text of that reply and I showed it to Castro while I was waiting for the Pope to land. That way there would be a written agenda for their meeting. The face-to-face meeting lasted quite a while and at the end of it they both came out smiling. I remember the mass in the Plaza de la Revolución with the Castro brothers in the front row and the crowd shouting ‘Libertad! Libertad!’ as the Pope pronounced his homily. And I remember the words with which Fidel bid John Paul II goodbye at the airport before he set off back to Rome: ‘Thank you for everything you said, even for those words I may not have liked.’ He had this human elegance about him as Wojtyla smiled: that visit marked the beginning of long but real process of opening up”.

MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

MIAMI (CNS) — On the day the news of Fidel Castro’s death spread, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami was one of the first Catholic Church officials to respond early Nov. 26. “Fidel Castro is dead,” he wrote in a statement. “The death of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, calling for peace for Cuba and its people.”

Later that day at Ermita de la Caridad, a Miami shrine that honors Cuba’s patron Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and one built, he said in his homily, “with the sacrifices of the (Cuban) exiles,” he focused on the suffering of Catholic Cuba and the news of Castro’s death. The 90-year-old former leader of Cuba reportedly died late at night Nov. 25.

“The Cuban people are a noble people, but also a people who suffer,” Archbishop Wenski said. “And now, on the eve of this first Sunday of Advent, to emphasize the words of Christ ‘at the hour you least expect, the Son of Man will come,’ we have learned that Fidel Castro has died.” He continued: “Each human being, each of us, will die. We will all be judged one day. Today, it is his (Fidel Castro’s) turn. God’s judgment is merciful, but it doesn’t cease to be just.”

Archbishop Wenski asked those gathered to invoke Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and ask for her intercession. “She has accompanied the Cuban people for more than 400 years,” he said, including during the country’s battle for independence and she “suffered with the church when the Marxist obscurantism wounded and decimated (the church).” She has been there in good times and in times of turmoil, in the Cuban prisons and in the agricultural “forced labor camps” the Cuban government operated, he said.

Referencing recent moments in the history of the island when Catholics hid their faith fearing persecution by a government and a society that looked down on religion, he said the Virgin was present in the prayer cards people hid in their dressers, as church members were “forced to survive by publicly denying their devotion.” And Mary is there with those who, despite all the challenges they have faced, continue to pass on the gift of faith to their children and grandchildren on the island.

She remains on the island today, he said, and continues to lavish her motherly love “in prisons that still are not empty and in the midst of women who walk demanding freedom.”

Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is present, Archbishop Wenski said, with those inside and outside Cuba, who “fight for respect for human dignity and to establish a future of freedom, justice and peace.”