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The giant who spoke for St John Paul II

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, St John Paul II’s spokesman for many years, died last week. In a tribute at Crux, John Allen quoted Shakespeare: “Take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”

Navarro had his flaws, Allen said. “For one thing, it was often not entirely clear, when he talked about John Paul, whether he was telling us what actually happened or what he felt should have happened.” He once gave a detailed description of a meeting Pope John Paul had with a Guatemalan human rights activist, “down to the colourful native costume she wore”, without realising that the meeting had actually been cancelled at the last moment.

“However, no one’s perfect, and on the whole, the Navarro-Valls I knew was a giant of a man,” wrote Allen. “He also took a deep personal interest in the people around him ­– in fact, the very last question he ever asked me in that brief talk we had a couple of weeks ago was about my health.”

John Allen wrote that after his last phone call with Navarro he “hung up in tears, conscious I had just spoken to a dying man”.

“I tried to tell him what he had meant to me, and how much he had helped me when I was just starting out. I’m not sure he took it all in, because by that stage in the conversation he was obviously fatigued … If he didn’t quite get it, let me say it now: I’m probably not here, writing this appreciation or doing anything else in journalism, had it not been for Joaquin Navarro-Valls.”

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