By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
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 Burke's spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.
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 in December 2015.
A graduate of Columbia University's school of journalism, 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, Burke 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 as the Secretariat for Communications took over the general administration of the radio.
Burke told Catholic News Service that he was excited for his new role as director of the press office. "I'm a little bit awed by it and just very thankful for the trust of the pope," he said.
He also noted that in choosing an American and a Spanish journalist, the pope has made "an important sign of internationalization" in order to reach out to Catholics across the globe.
"The deputy director is a Spanish woman; so we have English and Spanish covered. English, I think, is important for the global audience and Spanish is certainly important for the Catholic audience. About half of the Catholic population worldwide speaks Spanish, so that's an important sign," he said.
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," Garcia Ovejero told CNS.
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.
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 Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and 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 Burke was "long known to us in the United States as a devoted man of the church and an unparalleled communicator."