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Father Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, 1968-2021 Father Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, 1968-2021 

Jesuit Bernd Hagenkord: The life of a papal journalist

52-year-old Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord died on Monday following a brief illness. For over a decade Fr Bernd headed the German-language programmes of Vatican Radio, and went on to play a leading role in kick-starting and implementing the Holy See's media reform.

By Alessandro De Carolis

At first sight one could have mistaken him for a visitor, perhaps an actor… one of the many guests who – before the Covid-19 pandemic – found themselves in the corridors of Palazzo Pio waiting to enter a recording studio for an interview. But to the contrary, at the Pope’s Radio, and then in the early days of Vatican News, Father Bernd Hagenkord was anything but a guest.

On the Pope’s Radio station

The illness that took him away from the love and friendship of the many people who were close to him - besides his family, the Society of Jesus which he joined in 1992 at the age of 24 and his colleagues in the Vatican media – spread rapidly shortly after his return from Rome to Germany, where he was born on 4 October 1968 in Hamm, near Dusseldorf.

With a passion for journalism, Father Bernd arrived in Rome in 2009 to head Vatican Radio's German-language programmes. Ordained in 2002, he had became a priest in Cologne after having studied philosophy, theology, history and journalism in Hamburg, Munich and London. Cologne is the city where he prepared to undertake his mission in Rome by studying Italian and doing an internship at Domradio. This task had been assigned to him by the Society of Jesus to report on papal and Vatican activities during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Guidance and care

During his ten years at the Radio, Fr Bernd was greatly appreciated by fellow German-speaking reporters, who looked up to him not only for his professional, but also for his human qualities – he was often the one who offered to work the busiest shifts, especially on major feasts, so that his colleagues could spend time with their families. He was highly esteemed by those in the many other language sections as well: a world in a nutshell at Vatican Radio headquarters in Rome, where dozens of different language sections and cultures coexist.  Here, he became the coordinator of the Jesuits working at Vatican Radio, which had been entrusted to the Society founded by St Ignatius until the Vatican Media reform.

Return to Germany

Father Bernd was very balanced, often ironic in his approach – but one of his traits that most stood out was his capacity to mediate, in a way that was both thoughtful and insightful, whenever there was an issue to be resolved. That's why  the new Board of Directors entrusted him with the coordination of the editorial team that liases with all the different language sections of Vatican Radio/Vatican News.

In September 2019, Father Bernd bid farewell to the world of Vatican journalism. Those who said goodbye had no suspicion that his departure was about to become definitive. In the church in Germany, Father Bernd immersed himself in the synodal journey, first as a spiritual guide, then also as an elected member of the ZdK, the largest association of German Catholics involved in the Synod with the Bishops' Conference. Here he found the time to teach journalism and share his experience as long as his strength and medical treatment allowed.

“Free space for faith”

Father Bernd lived his last days with the privacy and discretion that were part of his character.  His love for Rome and for Roman history is witnessed by the stunning black and white photographs on his Instagram profile. When he arrived in Rome he hung a sign on the door of his office. It said: "Free space for faith." That sign is no longer there – but it is no longer needed. It is engraved in his legacy.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed,
Through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

26 July 2021, 16:43