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A Hidden Papabile In Plain View: Why Pope Francis Is Just What The Church Needs

Night and new pope arriving last night in Piazza San Pietro
Night and new pope arriving last night in Piazza San Pietro
Andrea Tornielli


VATICAN CITY - As it turned out, there was a hidden candidate right there in front of us. This explains the rapidity of the conclave, which was almost as fast as the one that elected Joseph Ratzinger eight years ago.

When he took the floor last week during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings, sources say he never went past the five minutes of allocated time. He spoke to his fellow cardinals with the heart of a Church that is capable of showing the face of God’s mercy.

The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- the first Jesuit and first Latin American to ever become pope, as well as the first to take the name of Francis -- surprised many people. It seemed like the cardinals were looking for a young pope, but wound up electing one who is 76 years old. It had also seemed like they were going to choose a “governor” to reform the bureaucracy of the Roman Curia, yet they chose the cardinal furthest away from any of the careerism, games and Vatican intrigue.

The election of Francis is a sign that a page has been turned. In the recent history of the Church, it had never happened that the de facto "runner-up" of the previous conclave was elected. It was also unprecedented to witness a new pope appear for the first time on the balcony of St. Peter’s and, before even blessing the crowd, ask the faithful to pray and bless him first.

Jorge Bergoglio has denounced repeatedly in the last few years that the Church risks becoming self-referential: “If the Church remains closed in on itself, it will get old. And between a Church that is on a bumpy road or a Church that is ill because it is self-referential, I don’t have any doubt that I would prefer the first option.”

Soft touch, hard choices

Certainly, his appointment follows in the direction that emerged over the past few days, in the General Congregation sessions: a reform of the Curia, a better collegiality, avoiding a repetition of the scandals that have plagued the Church over the past few years. But also, even if it is easy to predict his steps in this way, the priority for all the cardinals was to elect a man of God, who was first of all, a man who would spread the Gospel.

Even the choice to appear on the balcony last night along with the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and the persistent underlining of the connection between Bishop with the diocese of the Eternal City, is an important sign. The message of a pontiff who began his message by emphasizing the connection with the local churches -- like a pastor and his flock.

It’s not easy to make predictions on the future choices that the new Pope will make. Who will he bring in as Secretary of State, how will he intend to confront the theme of financial transparency and the problems of IOR, the Vatican bank, what decisions will he make after he reads, painfully, the pages of the dossier of the investigation into the leaking of papal documents?

But ever since his name and humble style were presented Wednesday evening to the faithful, the Church, and the world, it was evident to see that this institution, with 2,000 years of history on it’s shoulders, still has a face that knows how to change -- and surprise.

A Jesuit who takes the Franciscan name, chooses to call himself after the great Italian Saint, the great reformer of the radicalism of the Gospel? It’s a sign of hope and an invitation for the whole Church to change with him.

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Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Noel, a Cuban engineer who had to emigrate to the faraway island of Saint Lucia, tells about the Cuban government's systematic intimidation techniques and coercion of its professionals abroad. He now knows he can never go back to his native island — lest he should never be allowed to leave Cuba again.

Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Next stop, Saint Lucia

Laura Rique Valero

Daniela* was just one year old when she last played with her father. In a video her mother recorded, the two can be seen lying on the floor, making each other laugh.

Three years have passed since then. Daniela's sister, Dunia*, was born — but she has never met her father in person, only connecting through video calls. Indeed, between 2019 and 2023, the family changed more than the two little girls could understand.

"Dad, are you here yet? I'm crazy excited to talk to you."

"Dad, I want you to call today and I'm going to send you a kiss."

"Dad, I want you to come for a long time. I want you to call me; call me, dad."

Three voice messages which Daniela has left her father, one after the other, on WhatsApp this Saturday. His image appears on the phone screen, and the two both light up.

The girls can’t explain what their father looks like in real life: how tall or short or thin he is, how he smells or how his voice sounds — the real one, not what comes out of the speaker. Their version of their dad is limited to a rectangular, digital image. There is nothing else, only distance, and problems that their mother may never share with them.

In 2020, Noel*, the girls' father, was offered a two-to-three-year employment contract on a volcanic island in the Caribbean, some 2,000 kilometers from Cuba. The family needed the money. What came next was never in the plans.

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