Goodbye to the dean of the Vaticanisti

Arcangelo Paglialunga

VATICAN CITY — Vatican reporters said goodbye today to the dean of the Vaticanisti, Arcangelo Paglialunga, who died Wednesday at age 91.

Paglialunga, who worked off-and-on until the day of his death, was in many ways the living memory of the Vatican press office. His journalistic career spanned six pontificates, and he had stories about them all.

When I walked into the Sala Stampa Vaticana for the first time in 1983, Arcangelo was one of perhaps a dozen regulars who worked there. Like the others, he had a small desk, a pad of paper and a telephone — and that was it. He covered the Vatican for the Gazzettino di Venezia and the Giornale di Brescia, and I soon learned that he was one of the better informed members of the press corps.

With the press office renovation in 2000, Paglialunga was given a glassed-in, high-tech booth next door to ours. We were neighbors, and Arcangelo, who professed a great love for everything American, would frequently share some stories — like the time he ran down to welcome the American troops that arrived in St. Peter’s Square during the liberation of Rome in 1944.

He had copious notes on the papal audiences of every American president, beginning with Eisenhower’s meeting with Pope John XXIII in 1959. He once recounted that when Richard Nixon came to see Pope Paul VI in 1970, his secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, was taken to a Vatican waiting room, where he lit up a cigar. At a certain moment, the doors to the room opened and Laird unexpectedly found himself in the middle of the presidential entourage. He stuffed the lit cigar into his pocket, where it smoldered for the rest of the ceremony.

Paglialunga lived near the Vatican and on his way to work he often ran into Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as their paths crossed in St. Peter’s Square. The encounters offered Arcangelo an opportunity to chat with the cardinal, get to know him a bit and voice his own opinions. In 2005, Paglialunga was one of few reporters who gave Cardinal Ratzinger very good odds in the conclave that elected him pope.

The pope sent a message of condolences for Paglialunga, and it was read at the funeral rites today.

While the Vatican press office serves several hundred accredited journalists, the regulars are still a small number of reporters. It’s a fairly close-knit group. As Father Ciro Benedettini, the vice director of the press office, said today, Arcangelo considered the press office his second home and his second family. The feeling was mutual, and we will miss him.

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