The following was going to be my lead news in today’s column but all that changed with the appointment of a new director for the Holy See Press Office – see that story below. However, I think it is noteworthy that the world’s oldest priest turns 107 today! Here is a Reuters story from Belgium:

NALINNES, Belgium (Reuters) – A strict daily routine is the recipe for a long life, according to the world’s oldest priest, Belgian Jacques Clemens, who will celebrate his 107th birthday on Monday.

Clemens, who has also celebrated his 80th anniversary as a Catholic priest, gets up every morning at 5.30 a.m. and goes to bed at 9.00 p.m.

When Clemens was about to retire at 75, his bishop asked him to remain in service until they found a successor – he only stopped holding regular church services at his parish in the southern Belgian village of Nalinnes last year.

At Mass yesterday –

Father Jacques Clemens attends a mass at St. Benoit church in Nalinnes, Belgium, July 10, 2016.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Father Jacques Clemens attends a mass at St. Benoit church in Nalinnes, Belgium, July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Happy Birthday, Fr. Clemens!

POPE NAMES AMERICAN TO HEAD HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE

Today’s big news story at the Vatican is the nomination of a new director for the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, a long time friend and colleague, and the naming of a female laywoman, also a journalist, to be the assistant director. History in the making in Vatican communications.

Pope Francis has named American journalist Greg Burke as the new director of the Holy See Press Office, effective August 1st. In another big appointment at a Vatican communications office, Francis also named a laywoman, Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, as assistant director of the press office. (N C Register photo)

GREG BURKE - NC REGISTER

The press office was headed by another Opus Dei numerary, Joaquin Navarro Valls, for 22 years during the papacy of John Paul II. Named in 1984, Navaro-Valls served as the papal spokesman until July 2006. Burke is thus the second layperson to head the press office but today’s nominations indicate the first time that two lay people head the sala stampa.

Paloma Garcia Ovejero –

PALOMA

Pope Francis has spoken for several years about women having a bigger role in the Church had many have noted that he had done little to implement that in the Roman Curia. Today’s nomination changed that perception, at least a little.

Another perception that the Pope changed in some way with Burke’s nomination is the idea there has been an anti-American feeling in the Curia. In fact, a number of Americans have been given other positions and moved out of the Roman Curia while none have been appointed to high-ranking positions inside the Vatican as they were with St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. At one point, Americans were second only to Italians in the Curia in numbers.

Both Burke, a native of St. Louis, and Garcia Ovejero speak multiple languages. She was the Vatican correspondent for the Spanish broadcaster COPE, and has ties to the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

I have known Greg since the mid-1980s when I was covering the Vatican as the Rome Bureau Chief for the National Catholic Register. I had that position until returning to the U.S. in December 1985, at which point Greg’s was a name I suggested to my superiors at the Register as someone who could succeed me.

Most of the news stories today about these appointments point to Greg Burke’s last position before being tapped as a communications consultant for the Secretariat of State – his work as the Fox News correspondent in Rome. He had also been a correspondent for TIME magazine.

I remember hearing Greg’s name being bandied about as a successor to Joaquin Navarro- Valls in May 2006 during Pope Benedict’s trip to Poland to honor his late predecessor, John Paul II. I mentioned it in either a blog or on air and did hear from Greg rather quickly – where had I heard that, he asked. I told him that, with the imminent departure of Navarro-Valls, his name had come up among journalist colleagues as an able, affable, competent, unflappable successor to the popular Spaniard who held the office for so long.

Exactly ten years ago, on July 11, 2006, a little over a month after Benedict’s Poland trip, the Pope named Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi as the successor to Navarro-Valls.

And now we have that able, affable, competent, unflappable successor to Fr. Federico Lombardi!

Will there be a successor to Greg Burke as a senior communications adviser in the Secretariat of State? Will there still be that office? Burke was the first to occupy that newly-created position four years ago. He was named deputy director of the press office in January 2016.

I cannot close without praising Fr. Lombardi’s leadership at the helm where he sailed a ship for ten years in waters that would have capsized a better boat!

He has been such a wonderful presence over the years – his calm, his knowledge, his availability, his extraordinary thoroughness on any topic he had to tackle – his truly encyclopedia knowledge! He had the knack of telling the world – especially vis-a-vis Pope Francis – what the Pope meant to say when his words created doubt or confusion, without every saying “What the Holy Father meant was…..”

I wonder if anyone else at the Vatican has lost as much sleep – and surely countles meals! – as Fr. Lombardi!

These words are altogether too few to express ny heartfelt thanks to this great and very humble man who has been our guide, guardian and mentor for ten years!

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