TIME diplomacy

The Vatican Helped Seal U.S.-Cuba Deal

Hosted secret talks between the two nations

The Vatican played a key role in securing the release of an American contractor held in Cuba for five years and in setting the stage for a cooling of relations between the two countries, officials said Wednesday.

Pope Francis encouraged the neighbors, who have not had diplomatic relations since the rise of Fidel Castro in 1961, to negotiate a deal, and even hosted secret talks at the Vatican between the two nations, Obama Administration officials said. Canada hosted many of the negotiations, until the final meeting at the Vatican.

The deal to release Alan Gross was finalized in a call between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, but Obama noted that the Vatican was instrumental in brokering the make-up.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raul Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the united states and cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official said, calling the papal letter “very rare. … The Vatican then hosted the U.S. and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

MORE: What to know about Alan Gross

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller / Washington

TIME Italy

Watch Thousands of Tango Dancers Celebrate Pope Francis’s Birthday in Rome

The Argentinian has expressed fondness for his country's dance

There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a dance party, and for Pope Francis’s 78th, that means a massive tango party in the streets of Rome. Thousands gathered in and around the Vatican City to sing happy birthday in Italian, Spanish and other languages and dance to tango music—an Argentinian import like Francis himself.

Before becoming the Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave an interview for the book The Jesuit by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti expressing his love for the tango. “I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s something that comes from within me.”

[Reuters]

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Dec. 5 – Dec. 12

From the ongoing protests against police brutality in the U.S. and the dismantling of the main pro-democracy protest camp in Hong Kong to the British royal couple’s first New York visit and Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Says There’s a Place for Pets in Paradise

Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican
Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 10, 2014 Stefano Rellandini—Reuters

The head of the Catholic Church promises that some dogs, at least, do go to heaven

Pope Francis confirmed during his weekly address in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square that canines, along with “all of God’s creatures,” can make it to heaven.

The leader of the Catholic Church made the remark in order to comfort a young boy who was mourning the death of his dog, according to the New York Times.

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,” said the 77-year-old Pontiff, according to Italian news sources.

Pope Francis has been cast as a much more liberal figure compared with his predecessors. Since ascending to the church’s helm last year, he has attempted to engage with homosexuals and unwed couples and backed the Big Bang Theory.

[NYT]

Correction: The original version of this story misattributed a quotation from Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, to Pope Francis. It was Pope Paul VI who said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ.” The original version of this story misinterpreted comments made by Francis who said in recent remarks, according to Vatican Radio, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” This quotation was interpreted in press accounts to mean that the Pope believes all animals go to heaven. A Vatican spokesman told Reuters on Dec. 13 that this was not the Pope’s intended message.

Read next: The Pope Just Received a Fly Pair of Custom Diesel Sweatpants

TIME People

9 of the Most Memorable Moments of 2014

Images of Pope Francis in a nativity scene, Hillary Clinton cuddling her grandchild , Malala Yousafzai reacting to her Nobel win and more

TIME Music

Italy’s Singing Nun Gives Pope Francis Her ‘Like a Virgin’ Cover

Vatican Pope Singing Nun
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis greets Sister Cristina Scuccia as she presents him with her CD at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 10, 2014 AP

This nun feels "touched for the very first time" (by God)

Italy’s famed singing nun met Pope Francis this week and brought him a gift: a copy of her first album.

Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won the Italian version of The Voice in June, presented the Pontiff with her debut CD during his general audience on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. The album’s tracks include her ballad-like take on Madonna’s pop classic “Like a Virgin.”

Though some members of the Catholic establishment have criticized the nun for the saucy track, Scuccia told the Guardian last month that she saw her version as a religious interpretation of the 1984 hit. In the original, Madonna croons that someone — ostensibly a new lover, but who knows, since Madonna never clarifies that it isn’t God — makes her feel “touched for the very first time.”

“I’m giving it a new interpretation from a faith standpoint,” Scuccia said. “We can all feel incomplete. I felt that when I was touched by God, then I felt loved like I’ve never been loved before.”

Scuccia also told the Guardian that her next big goal was to speak with, and perhaps even sing for, the Pope.

“I’d love to give him a copy of my album,” she said presciently.

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 28 – Dec. 5.

From ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s acquittal to protests over Eric Garner’s chokehold death verdict and the launch of NASA’s unmanned exploration spacecraft Orion to the White House’s Christmas decorations, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME

Vatican Discovers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars That Were ‘Tucked Away’

Cardinals listen to Pope Francis at the Vatican Oct. 20, 2014.
Cardinals listen to Pope Francis at the Vatican Oct. 20, 2014. Max Rossi—Reuters

Pope Francis is pushing for more financial transparency in the Vatican

The Vatican’s economy minister says that the Vatican has discovered hundreds of millions of dollars that were previously “tucked away” in various departments.

In an article to be published Friday in Britain’s Catholic Herald, Cardinal George Pell writes that Vatican reformers had uncovered the funds in a push for transparency among some 200 separate Vatican entities, though he did not suggest wrongdoing. The findings, he wrote, have helped boost Vatican finances.

“In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet,” Bell writes.

Pope Francis has made reforming the Vatican’s finances a priority since he was elected in 2013. Earlier this year, he named Pell, an Australian Cardinal, head of the new Secretariat for the Economy.

TIME World

The Pope Just Received a Fly Pair of Custom Diesel Sweatpants

Pope's gonna look dope

When it comes to sartorial choices, Pope Francis usually keeps things simple. Crisp white cassock, sensible black shoes, elegant white skullcap. But now, it looks like the pontiff has a new garment in his wardrobe that we’re very excited to see him incorporate into his outfits: a pair of custom Diesel sweatpants.

More specifically, they’re a pair of Diesel Jogg Jeans, which the Italian clothing company describes as a “cutting edge crossbreed between jeans and activewear.” The brand’s founder, Renzo Rosso, recently met with the Pope and bestowed upon him the one-of-a-kind custom-made pants, MTV reports.

Diesel’s artistic director Nicola Formichetti captured the moment and shared it on Instagram:

So hey, next time the Pope does something awesome like pose with an adorable lamb around his neck, maybe he’ll be sporting these bad boys. Fingers crossed.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Urges Muslim Leaders to Condemn Violence

Francis
Pope Francis, center, talks during a press conference aboard the flight toward Rome on Nov. 30, 2014 Gregorio Borgia—AP

Remarks came during only the fourth trip by a sitting Pontiff to Turkey

Pope Francis has called on Muslim leaders to condemn violence in order to eliminate the unfortunate stereotype linking Islam with terrorism.

The Pontiff made his statement on a flight from Turkey, where he’s spent three days discussing divisions between faiths, reports the BBC.

He rejected those who say that “all Muslims are terrorists … [just] as we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists.”

During a visit at the Blue Mosque, the Pope stopped for two minutes turned towards Mecca, folded his hands and listened as the Grand Mufti of Istanbul gave a Muslim prayer.

Together with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the 77-year-old also released a joint statement appealing for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and for peace in Ukraine.

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