VATICAN CITY—The “Vatican official” who is helping Pope Francis practice and polish his English for his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines next week is American Greg Burke, a former Time magazine and Fox News journalist who has been working with the Vatican State Secretariat as communications adviser since 2012 during the papacy of Benedict XVI.
Perhaps a surprising choice for a Pope who happens to be a Jesuit religious, Burke is a member of Opus Dei, a Catholic group of mostly laymen who take religious vows, including celibacy.
Opus Dei has always taken orthodox positions that have been called “ultraconservative,” positions that often clash with those of the more liberal Jesuits. The group has likewise been smeared by the liberal secular media for its alleged secretiveness and elitism.
The Vatican spokesperson, Rev. Federico Lombardi, had said that the Pope’s second Asian trip, like the first to South Korea, would be an “all-English affair” and that Francis would deliver all his “discourses” in English. (Sri Lanka is a former British colony and the Philippines, a former American colony.)
Responding to observations that the Pope had difficulty in English when he was in Korea, Lombardi said Francis had been practicing to improve his English and he was getting help from a “Vatican official.”
Take that, Dan Brown
Sources said it was Burke. Although he was with Time for 10 years and with Fox News for the same number of years, Burke has been with Opus Dei since he was 18.
Burke, 54, is a numerary, or celibate layman, of the group erroneously called a religious order of “monks” in Dan Brown’s potboiler “The Da Vinci Code.”
A product of Columbia School of Journalism, Burke is said to have convinced Benedict to use Twitter, making him the first Pope to do so, and helped firm up the image of Francis as “the people’s Pope.”
In his 2005 book “Opus Dei,” American Vatican journalist John Allen looked into the accusations against the group and found that it didn’t deserve the infamy that the popular media had consigned it to.
The Pontificio Collegio Filippino, meanwhile, held a Mass for a select group of 14 Philippine journalists who would fly with Pope Francis to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, his second trip to Asia since South Korea last August.
Aside from this writer, the lone print-media member, the group includes Niño Manalo and Ana Patricia Hontiveros Pagkalinawan, 9TV; Lynda Jumilla Abalos and Ariel Fulgado, ABS-CBN News; Kara Patria David and Melchor Quintos, GMA Network; Arvin Rillera and Jhemmylrut Torres, TV5 Network Inc.; Marco Paolo Bombase and Wilfred Delgado Herrera, Radio-TV Malacañang; Cicero Roy Lagarde, CBCP News, and Jose Adrias Torres, UCAN News.
Rev. Gregory Ramon Gaston, rector of Collegio Filippino, will accompany the media delegation as a correspondent of Radyo Veritas, the radio station of the Philippine Church.
In his homily, Msgr. Wilfredo Aldrey, deputy rector of the Collegio, said the journalists were “truly graced” to be on the same flights as the Pope on his second trip to Asia.
On Monday evening, Pope Francis and the journalists will board an Alitalia flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where they will stay two nights before boarding a Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Manila on Jan. 15. They will fly back to Rome on Jan. 19 on Philippine Airlines.
Aldrey urged the journalists to cooperate with the mission of the Pope to bring “good tidings” to the world “through the media.”
“You have the responsibility to join in this mission of Pope Francis of bringing God’s love and mercy to the poor,” he said. “Let us highlight the pastoral mission and the good news of salvation of the Pope. Spread it far and wide through the media.”