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20160711T0845 1030 CNS PRESS BURKE GARCIA 800Greg Burke, the new director of the Vatican press office and Vatican spokesman, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the new vice director, are pictured during an announcement of their appointments to journalists at the Vatican press office July 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis named two experienced journalists – including its first female vice director – to lead the Vatican press office.

Greg Burke, a native of St. Louis, succeeds Italian Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who retires after 10 years as head of the Vatican press office, the Vatican announced July 11. Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero fills in Mr. Burke's spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.

Mr. Burke served as special communications adviser in the Vatican's Secretariat of State starting in 2012 before he was named by Pope Francis as the vice director of the press office last December.

A graduate of Columbia University's school of journalism, Mr. Burke spent 24 of his past 28 years based in Rome as a journalist – with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and the Fox News network.

The middle child of six, he grew up in St. Louis Hills and went to Jesuit-run St. Louis University High School. He is a numerary member of Opus Dei.

Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican's Secretariat of Communications, paid tribute to Father Lombardi's 10 years of service at the press office.

Speaking to journalists July 11, Msgr. Vigano praised Father Lombardi's professional work and his "ecclesial vision" of the church.

Born in northern Italy near Turin in 1942, Father Lombardi was named program director of Vatican Radio in 1990 and general director of the Vatican television center, CTV, in 2001.

During the reorganization of Vatican offices under Pope Benedict XVI, Father Lombardi was appointed general director of the radio in 2005 and head of the Vatican press office in 2006, while continuing to lead CTV. Before his retirement in 2013, Pope Benedict named Msgr. Vigano the new director of CTV.

Father Lombardi retired as head of Vatican Radio in February this year when the Secretariat for Communications took over the general administration of the radio.

Ms. Garcia Ovejero, who studied journalism in Spain and earned a masters degree in management strategies and communications at New York University, worked as the Italy and Vatican correspondent for Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena COPE.

"For me it's an honor, it's a service and it's another way of serving the church. But it is the same church and, in some way, the same type of work: to proclaim the Good News and to transmit faithfully and with dignity the pope's message," Ms. Garcia Ovejero told Catholic News Service.

The Spanish journalist downplayed her role as the first female vice director of the press office, saying that the first women who served the church "were the ones who found the empty tomb and proclaimed the Resurrection to the apostles."

"I am in no way the first woman. The first woman above all in the church, in the Vatican and in the press office is the Virgin Mary," she told CNS.

Ms. Garcia Ovejero said she hoped her role will be to serve and fulfill "the will of God, the will of the pope and, in every possible way, the will of the journalists."

The Vatican announced that Ms. Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and Mr. Burke will begin their respective roles Aug. 1.

In Washington, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated all three and thanked Father Lombardi for helping to "spread the Gospel throughout the world across two pontificates."

"I was especially grateful to have learned not only from his media expertise but also his deep love for the church during the six days we spent together as Pope Francis visited the United States," the archbishop said.

He said Mr. Burke was "long known to us in the United States as a devoted man of the church and an unparalleled communicator."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.