Saturday, January 30, 2010

People of the Year - #5

From Inside the Vatican

Each year for the past 10 years, Inside the Vatican has chosen 10 "People of the Year" -- men and women of courage, vision, learning and faith.

I find myself unable to write currently, and so in my desire to bring Freedom Through Truth, will be bringing to you things that I have seen and admire for their veracity.

Here is the fifth member of that illustrious group.

Sister Giovanna Gentili
With her efficiency and cordiality, Sister Giovanna was the image of the Vatican press room for 25 years. The presence of this Pauline nun, discreet and reserved, but at the same time reliable, reassured with her kind smile those entering the Vatican press room for the first time.

Sister Giovanna, in fact, while helping a newcomer to fill in the application form for admittance to the press room, found a way to start a pleasant conversation with the newcomer, thereby putting him or her at ease immediately.

Actually, I can confirm all this, since, when I first entered the press room, it was Sister Giovanna who directed me to her desk to give me all the information I needed. I remember that she also showed me round the press room, telling me where to find the various bulletins and pointing me to the little buffet.

It was customary, I dare say even ritual, for everyone entering the main door of the press office to turn toward the right and catch Sister Giovanna’s eye for a simple hello.

“God’s post woman,” as she was affectionately called in an interview published by the diocesan weekly Vita Trentina (Life of Trent), was also entrusted with the task of getting admission tickets to Vatican events for journalists, sometimes a heavy duty when a groups of foreign journalists arrived in Rome for a ceremony, e.g., a consistory, and to be organized and directed in a few brief minutes.

In the same interview, Sister Giovanna remembered with affection the directors she had worked for: Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, for whom she worked for more than 20 years, and Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., for whom she had been working since 2006.
This is what she said of Dr. Navarro-Valls: “He enjoyed the Pope’s complete confidence like no other, he was extraordinarily faithful to the Pope and had an extraordinary sense of duty: a reserved man, he cultivated a deep attitude of prayer: He read all that the Pope wrote to the point of identifying with him and being able to interpret his thoughts.” 

Of Father Lombardi, who coordinates the press room, the TV station and Vatican Radio, she said: “I am deeply impressed by his memory and intellectual faculties, as well his helpfulness with journalists.”

On July 1, 2009, Sister Giovanna left her job at the Press Office. After holding an important post for many years, she resigned amidst colleagues and journalists saying good-bye to her.
During the meeting organized to say good-bye to Sister Giovanna and thank her for her job which on  a daily basis brought her in touch with journalists accredited to the Holy See, she was awarded the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and the Pope), an honor conferred on clergy and laymen who have distinguished themselves for their service to the Church. Sister Giovanna received the cross from Archbishop Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for the media, who handed it to her on behalf of the Pope.

Celli remembered Sister Giovanna’s dedication, which won her the esteem of the Pope and the Holy See. “We must be thankful to Sister Giovanna,” said Father Lombardi, “who defined the Vatican press room as her home and community, for her long service, commitment, faithfulness, along with the attention and patience that she dedicated to the journalists accredited to the press room, resulting from her scrupulous work and extraordinary dedication, especially during the transition from one pontificate to the other.”
At the end of the ceremony Sister Giovanna, visibly moved as she had never been, thanked everybody.

We know that we will still meet her on occasion, just the period it will take her to hand over to a good successor, who, by the way, already works at the Accreditation Office. Yet we feel a bit like orphans now that she is gone. Thank you, Sister Giovanna, for guiding, protecting, and sometimes for reproaching us, not without good reason. If we have grown, it is thanks to you. —Micaela Biferali

Special note: Sister Giovanna, for more than 25 years, handled the requests, pressures and complaints of the members of the world’s media, nearly 1,000 journalists from around the world at any one time, more in moments of great historic importance. She was a “gatekeeper.” Sometimes had to keep the gates closed, and sometimes was able to open them a little bit. On all occasions, she fulfilled her duties with a dignity appropriate to her task, which was to make sure the news about the Holy Father and the Holy See was reported with as much truthfulness and clarity as possible for the sake of the Gospel. I would like  to take this opportunity to thank her personally for all she did to help Inside the Vatican over the years. Godspeed, Suor Giovanna. —Robert Moynihan 

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