Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed an Italian priest and philosopher as an “ecclesiastical assistant” to the Vatican’s communications department.

Forty-year-old Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco, from the southern Italian region of Puglia, is the author of more than 20 books and a frequent radio and television guest.

He also speaks at conferences and leads retreats throughout Italy.

With his new role in Vatican communications, Epicoco will also be a columnist for the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

During his annual Christmas speech in December 2019, Pope Francis gifted Epicoco’s book, “Someone to Look To: For a Spirituality of Witness,” to members of the Roman Curia.

Epicoco has been a priest of the Archdiocese of L’Aquila since 2005. He was a university chaplain in the archdiocese when the area was hit by the devastating 2009 earthquake which killed more than 300 people.

Last year, he oversaw the publication of an Italian-language book, “St. John Paul the Great,” featuring Pope Francis’ reflections on his Polish predecessor.

Pope Francis began a major reform of Vatican communications in 2015. The dicastery is responsible for overseeing all of the Vatican media operations, including Vatican News, Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano, and the Vatican publishing house.

In July 2018, the pope named Paolo Ruffini, then director of the Italian bishops' television network TV2000, as the department’s first lay prefect.

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Ruffini’s appointment followed the departure of Msgr. Dario Viganò, who stepped down after he was discovered by media to have altered an image of a letter from Benedict XVI. Viganò continues to work in the communications department in an advisory role.

Another lay man, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, was appointed editorial director for the Dicastery for Communication in December 2018.

On May 24, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano offices.

While there, he greeted the 300-some Vatican communications employees and spoke live on Vatican Radio about the importance of reaching an audience.

The pope said: “There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the Radio, L’Osservatore, but one that touches my heart: How many people listen to the Radio? How many people read L’Osservatore Romano?”

He compared the operation to “a mountain that gives birth to a mouse.”

“The question you should ask is: how many? How many people do [the programs] reach? It is always a danger that ... you are well organized, do good work, but you do not reach people,” Pope Francis said.

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