One year later, same request: “Pray for me!”

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked the one-year anniversary of his election with prayer — a fitting way to celebrate — since he is on a Lenten spiritual retreat outside of Rome.

But he did take a quick break to make sure this tweet got out:

…nicely similar to his very first tweet as pope:

francis first tweet

Be sure to check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how we at Catholic News Service covered the memorable day of his election by going to this slideshow here.

Here are a few images to show you want’s in store:

cover prezi

slide at end

Still in keeping with #ThrowbackThursday, check out our video coverage from that day, too:


The conclave guessing game: lessons from a numbers geek

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals from around the world in the Sistine Chapel March 12, 2013, as they began the conclave to elect a new pope. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — A year-ago today, as the world’s cardinals solemnly filed into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, news outlets, blogs and betting sites were abuzz with papal prognostications.

I wanted to take an informal stab at it myself using some tips from the U.S. statistician, Nate Silver, who had correctly predicted the outcome of the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

I thought it’d be a fun experiment to apply some of the approaches he had outlined in his book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t.”

Here’s what I looked at in the few days before the conclave:

  • What were the challenges facing the world and the church in 1978 and 2005?
  • What “winning” qualities did Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — the men who were elected those years — possess?

From there, I drafted a rough list of what church leaders and others were saying in 2013 about the pressing challenges.

Here are just a few examples:

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Shut off from the outside world, cardinals from around the world cast ballots to elect a new pontiff in a conclave that began March 12, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

  • Religious freedom, oppression in parts of Asia; persecution and violence in the Middle East and Africa; infringements in the western world.
  • Secularism and globalization.
  • Latin America losing Catholics, Asia growing.
  • Church needing to be “attractive,” new evangelization and need to be “outspoken.”
  • Making Jesus the center of liturgy, lives, prayer.
  • Problem of sex abuse.
  • Catechism and solid foundations of faith.
  • Attention to young people.
  • Orthodoxy, importance of Catholic identity for universities, charities.
  • Lapsed Catholics; family; sacraments.
  • Vocations.

Then I scribbled down some of the winning qualities that people were looking for and would be needed to face the challenges:

  • A spiritual leader (strong prayer life).
  • Energy, strength to travel; but how young/old is too young/old?
  • Can clean up Curia/problems that make church look bad.
  • Makes faith attractive.
  • Smart; simple, clear communication.
  • Honest, down-to-earth.
  • See young people as important.
  • Represents the message the church wants to send the world.
  • From Asia, Latin America, Africa.
  • Charismatic; humble; multilingual.
Cardinals enter Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel in prayer March 12, 2013, as they begin the conclave. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Silver said also to list any biases that might affect the way the data is read. So I listed the common opinion that the pope “not be Italian” and the need for someone “young” or with “strength of mind and body,” as Pope Benedict himself had said.

Then I looked at several cardinals and their lives, and rated them according to how well each man possessed the needed/winning qualities to confront today’s challenges. I calculated what chances they had of winning, of losing, and of having won in the past.

I only had time to look at 14 cardinals out of the 117 electors. But one of those men was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, whom I gave an 80% chance of winning and a 60% chance of losing (mostly because of his age — he was 76, and lack of languages).

bergoglio stats

A print-out of cardinal-electors, showing my Nate Silver-inspired stat results on March 12, 2013, for Cardinal Bergoglio’s chances of being elected pope.

But those pretty good percentages put him behind what I had calculated for Pope Francis’ close friend, 70-year-old Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. I had given him a 90% chance of winning and a 10% chance of losing, noting his focus on the poor, writings on globalization, his strong voice for Latin America, language abilities, courage to “put out into the deep,” his work on sanctity of life; and importance of evoking God in a secular world.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila got the next highest marks with a 90% chance of winning, but a 20% chance of losing (too young) noting the following “winning” qualities: “Asian, rides the bus, humble, Vatican II scholar, has ‘star power,’ intellect,” communicates clearly, with focus on youth.


Window of the Holy Spirit above Bernini’s sculpture, “The Throne of St. Peter,” in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 19, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The good thing about Silver’s approach is you’re supposed to adjust the percentages as you collect more data and I didn’t have that much time to find out more about Cardinal Bergoglio. Had I known he was another friend of public transport, I would have boosted his Win score up to 85%!

But probably the best lesson Silver offers is to never forget the limitations posed by human nature, our biases and our limited access to all the information out there.

We want to try to predict the future and be sure about what’s going to happen. But, he said we should be more humble about our ability to perceive and predict the world. And then when you add the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit at work, well, then all bets are off!

A year in review & where to send anniversary greetings

Argentina's flag seen as crowd in St. Peter's Square reacts to white smoke

The flag of Argentina is seen as the crowd in St. Peter’s Square reacts to white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — As the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election draws near, many initiatives have kicked off to help celebrate that memorable day.

The Vatican Internet office has put together a beautiful picture-book online that captures vivid images and memorable quotes from Francis’ pontificate, and includes links to the original, complete texts.

World Youth Day Rio 2013 organizers created a video compiling highlights of the first Latin American pope’s first year.

They also are asking people to send their prayers, greetings and reflections via Facebook, Twitter or direct message using the hashtag #ThankYouFrancis. Messages are being posted on their site at and delivered to Pope Francis in person.

thankyoufrancis logo

Screen-grab of message feed March 11.

Pope Francis’ popularity with young Catholics clear, but previous popes’ styles offer lessons for the young, too

By Katherine Talalas
Catholic News Service    

         WASHINGTON (CNS) — The producers of Canada’s Catholic TV channel, Salt + Light, visited The Catholic University of America Feb. 27 with a special message for youth and young adult leaders. While Pope Francis has been extraordinarily popular among millennials, past popes also have lessons to share — and their example can help win young souls for Christ.

                Basilian Father Thomas M. Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light, and producers Sebastian Gomes and Cheridan Sanders spoke to a group of students on “The Significance of Messages and Contributions of John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis to Youth/Young Adult Ministry.”

                Each speaker shared four lessons that youth and young adult ministers could take from each pope.               

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

                Gomes spoke about Blessed John XXIII, whom many compare to Pope Francis. Born into poverty, he had great compassion for the poor. Most of all, “he sought to be like the saints and care for souls,” Gomes said.

                Four lessons from Blessed John XXIII:

                1. He showed young Catholics the value of slowly progressing in holiness. Blessed John XXIII’s diary, “Journey of a Soul,” documents his daily struggles with pride, gossip, and failure in his prayer life. Said Gomes, “a lot of people are searching, and we give them this idea that Christianity is a light-bulb moment.” Blessed John reminds us that faith is a journey, and that individuals can gradually grow into holiness.

                2. He was devoted to dialogue and reconciliation with people of diverse backgrounds and faiths. While serving as an apostolic delegate representing the church in several non-Catholic countries, Blessed John XXIII encountered beliefs and traditions that most Catholics had never heard of. He was eager to engage people of all faiths, and was the first pope to address an encyclical to “all people of goodwill,” rather than specifically to Catholics.

                3. Blessed John XXIII had a great love of history. “History is a gift, but also a reference book,” said Gomes. The pope was passionate about history and was determined to learn from the past. As Catholics, we have tremendous history to draw from, which can guide us and strengthen our witness to others.

                4. His example helps us to move beyond political categories. Labels such as “liberal” or “conservative” are limiting for Catholic believers, and can even be destructive. Blessed John XXIII did not fit into either category. “It is really only the great conservatives who can make progressive decisions,” Gomes noted.               

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Father Rosica discussed the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, whom he had known personally through his work for World Youth Day. This pope’s famous love and sympathy for young people made him a champion for youth ministers.

                Four lessons from Blessed John Paul II:

                1. He focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ. According to Father Rosica, his papacy could be summed up with a simple statement: “God is rich in mercy.” The most important goal of youth and young adult ministry is to guide young people to Christ, and His mercy is available to all.

                2. He reaffirmed the meaning of orthodoxy. “Orthodoxy must go hand in hand with orthopraxy,” explained Father Rosica. “Christianity requires corresponding behavior for beliefs.” Youth and young adult ministers must support Catholics in living their faith — even when obeying Catholic doctrine distinguishes them from their peers.

                3. He provided an authentic example of individual holiness. Blessed John Paul II is universally remembered as a deeply holy man. He believed that “holiness has many faces from all corners of the world,” says Father Rosica, and deeply respected holiness in others.

                4. He was an excellent example of forgiveness. Famously, he forgave his assassin. Many Catholics remember how Blessed John Paul II visited with and extended compassion to the man who tried to kill him.

                Cheridan Sanders spoke about retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose intelligence and reason make him a powerful guide for young people seeking the truth. Sanders unpacked the generalization that Pope Benedict was “the conservative pope,” or “the pope of aesthetics.” “This does not really explain him,” Sanders said.

                Four lessons from Pope Benedict:               

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

               1. He had a deep and profound sense of awe. Though we live in a cynical age, gratitude and wonder open our eyes to God. “Pope Benedict loved created order, the environment, all human life, and beauty,” said Sanders. “Awe puts us in the right relationship with God, which makes us receptive to his revelations.”

                2. He was a student of life. “Even though Benedict was one of the most brilliant people in the world, he knew he didn’t have all the answers,” Sanders said. Pope Benedict respected reason, including the reason of those with whom he disagreed. Most of all, he was a curious person who enjoyed learning from others.

                3. He was gentle in correction. While Pope Benedict “was engaging and loved the world, he also wanted what was best for it,” Sanders said. He was unafraid to correct errors in thinking, albeit gently. 

           4. He had great humility. Sanders reminded youth ministers that Pope Benedict’s goodbye address had a profound lesson for them: “If you unable to do something anymore, the Holy Spirit will find someone who can.” While not always successful, Pope Benedict had a strong spirit of reconciliation, as shown by his outreach to critics of the church, including the Society of St. Pius X.      

On April 27, the feast of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II in ceremonies in Rome.

Argentine politicos and pope: If you can’t beat him, join him

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — As archbishop of the Argentine capital, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio clashed with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.

Shortly after being the cardinal was elected pope, however, posters blanketed Buenos Aires proclaiming Pope Francis an “Argentine and Peronist,” with the president’s supporters claiming Pope Francis as one of their own. They said he was part of the Peronist project to which they belong and which has dominated Argentine politics.

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires' Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires’ Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

“Pope Francis has always been a fellow Peronist,” says Carlos Luque, one of the thousands of government supporters streaming from the Plaza del Congreso after the president delivered a three-hour address to Congress in early March.

Church observers say Pope Francis was at one time an adherent of Peronism, a political movement founded by former President Juan Peron and his wife, Eva Peron. The movement has had strains stretching from left to right on the political spectrum.

“Bergoglio always came across as allied with Peronism. Why? Because Bergoglio probably saw in Peronism a non-Marxist force and sensitive to people’s needs,” says Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine, Criterio.

“In the 1960s, Bergoglio was against the Peronism of the left that ended up in guerrilla movements. He instead stayed closer to a Peronism that was more to the right.”

Then Nestor Kirchner came to power after the political and economic crisis of 2001, when Argentina defaulted on its debts of nearly $100 billion. Supporters speak of both Kirchners’ spending on social programs, students and the poor.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

But in the capital, the cardinal expressed suspicions of their populist politics and promotion of patronage groups among the poor. He criticized corruption during the traditional Te Deum Mass, celebrated on the May 25 national holiday and attended by the president.

The Kirchners took the criticism personally and stopped attending. Poirier figures they disliked the pope’s style as much as substance.

“One of the problems for Cristina Kirchner is that she’s not credible,” Poirier says.

“She has a certain charisma and political popularity, but her discourse often changes, and there’s a distance between the enrichment of many ministers and real life,” he adds.

“There’s a discourse that is not accompanied with a lifestyle. One of things that bothered them most about Bergoglio was his austerity.”

But with election of Pope Francis, priests and observers say both sides have made improving the relationship a priority. It’s improved to the point that Fernandez is expected to attend the Te Deum Mass this year, instead of heading for the provinces.

“Bergoglio has seen many people from Argentina now that he’s pope,” said Poirier. “He’s seen many politicians, union leaders, economic directors, and what generally leaks out is that he says: ‘Tend to Cristina. She has to finish her term. Institutions must be looked after. She’s the president.’”

A special blessing in Rome

VATICAN CITY — Catholic News Service was proud to have U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford bless the new office of the Rome bureau, which is now just a short sprint from St. Peter’s Square.

CNS' new office at Via della Conciliazione 44

CNS Rome bureau’s new office on the Via della Conciliazione near the Vatican in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS has had a presence in Rome since the 1920s and the bureau’s new location, with a view of the basilica, places us “on the final leg of the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter,” the cardinal said, a pilgrimage in search of the truth and communicating that truth.

Here is a an excerpt from the cardinal’s lovely and reflective remarks to us during the office blessing March 3. His full text will be republished by CNS’ documentary service, Origins.

“You are engaged in communication. Within the church your work on behalf of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would be described as ministry, a holy calling, a response to a divine welcome. Communications is your sacred profession. It requires an inner spiritual maturity and a search for more than hard facts. It requires a seeking after the truth.”

— Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, retired head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, former bishop of Baltimore, Memphis and archbishop of Denver

office blessing stafford

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford blessing the CNS Rome bureau’s new office March 3. He is surrounded by CNS director and editor-in-chief Tony Spence, the staff of the Rome bureau and family members. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


After the blessing, CNS hosted a small party, inviting Vatican officials, religious involved in communications, journalists and friends from the United States and around the world.

Here is one of the many distinguished guests who stopped by:

cardinal burke spence rocca

From left, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature; Tony Spence, CNS director and editor-in-chief; Francis X. Rocca, Rome bureau chief.

Pope Francis’ appeal to the younger generation

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — A warm sun and clear blue skies made for the perfect atmosphere at the papal audience today, where Pope Francis spoke about this first week of Lent. Posters, flags, flowers, hats and more were waved in the air as Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter’s Square in his shiny, white popemobile.

Pope Francis greets the  cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis greets the cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Waiting for him to come my way, I couldn’t help remembering the papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI I attended just four years ago. Although I was only 16 at the time and my memory of that day is a bit faded, the first difference I noticed was the audience’s attitude and tone. The energy this morning was high — there was excitement in everyone’s eyes and there was a clear eagerness in the crowd to see and be blessed in person by the genuine, down-to-earth man that dons all white. While I remember young people were the audience four years ago, their number has now skyrocketed.

What is it exactly about Pope Francis that brings in the “young” population? As the one year anniversary of the pope’s election March 13 approaches, I thought I would stick around after the audience to ask a few people their opinion.

“Pope Francis is not only wonderful and down-to-earth,” Ruth Figura of Belleville, Ill., told me, but his energy “will bring young people back to the church while renewing the faith of others as well.”

I spoke to a few Fairfield University alumnae (Maya Abinakad, Ariana Michaloutsos, Ashley Doran, and Kelly Mahon) who were visiting for a few days. They told me, “Pope Francis is modernizing things. He is pulling in young people because he makes connections and is more likeable.”

Pope Francis waves the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis waves to the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Almost everyone I spoke to use the words “loving,” “likeable” and “human” to describe Pope Francis. They see young people being influenced by Pope Francis and finding or restoring their faith in the church. On the other hand, those who are considered “older” or have been involved in the church for years expressed their respect for Pope Francis, particularly as a pope who can appeal to young people.

What do you think? Why is Pope Francis drawing more people to his audiences? If you could describe his first year as pope in one word, which word would you chose?

Emily Antenucci is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.