Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who spent 22 years as director of the Vatican press office, died at home in Rome July 5 at age 80 following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who succeeded Navarro-Valls as Vatican press director beginning in 2006, remembered him as a “master in the way he carried out his service.”
“Navarro always remained a friend for me, an example of discreet spiritual life, true and profound, fully integrated in his work, a model of dedication at the service of the pope and the church, a master of communications, although for me – as I have already said, but repeat – inimitable,” Father Lombardi said.
Greg Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, covered the Vatican for CNS from 1986-89. He said that as the first lay director of the Vatican press office, Navarro-Valls “was a groundbreaking figure in Vatican communications.”
“He raised the level of professionalism at the press office and embodied that professionalism in his relationship with the world’s news media. He exemplified the ideal that one could be a fully professional communicator and at the same time be a person of deep faith,” Erlandson said in a July 6 statement.
“In this way, he was the perfect collaborator with the pope he so loyally served, St. John Paul II,” he said.
Born in Cartagena, Spain, Nov. 16, 1936, Navarro-Valls joined Opus Dei after meeting St. Josemaria Escriva.
He studied internal medicine and psychiatry before obtaining degrees in journalism and communications sciences. He moved to Rome in 1970, where he collaborated with the Opus Dei founder.
He became a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC and was elected twice as president of the Rome-based Foreign Press Association in Italy before becoming the first lay journalist to become director of the Vatican Press Office when he was appointed by St. John Paul II in 1984.
After leaving his post at the Vatican, he served as president of the advisory board of the Opus Dei-affiliated Campus Biomedical University in Rome until his death.