John L. Allen Jr.: Joaquin Navarro-Valls: Take him for all in all, I will not look upon his like again

(Crux) A couple of weeks ago, I spoke on the phone to Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who served as the Vatican spokesman from 1984 to 2006, though that hardly does justice to the role he played under Pope John Paul II. In reality, Navarro was a member of John Paul’s inner circle and something akin to a Chief of Staff, much more than a mere press mouthpiece.

I had heard Navarro was seriously ill with a type of cancer, and since I was in Rome I wanted to have the chance to say goodbye. His voice was barely recognizable, scratchy and breathless, but he still managed to tell me I do “stupendous” work and to ask me to say hello to my wife for him.

I hung up in tears, conscious I had just spoken to a dying man.

On July 5, the end came. Navarro-Valls is dead at the age of 80, with the news breaking through a tweet by his successor as Director of the Holy See Press Office, American Greg Burke, who added a phrase that could well be the whole of Navarro’s epitaph: “Grace under pressure.”

Born in Cartagena, Spain, in 1936, the young Navarro attended a German school in his hometown, then studied medicine at the Universities of Granada and Barcelona, eventually becoming a professional psychiatrist and teaching medicine. (Later, Navarro would be known in the Vatican press corps for occasionally offering unsolicited medical advice to journalists, chiding them for putting on weight, not getting enough exercise, and so on.)

Navarro also studied journalism, earning a degree from the University of Navarra in 1968 and another in 1980. He would eventually make journalism his profession, becoming a foreign correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC. While covering Italy and the Vatican, he was elected a member of the Board of Directors and later as President of the Foreign Press Association in Rome. [More]