Luis Badilla, editorial director for Il Sismografo (The Seismograph), a leading blogspot for Vatican-related and worldwide Catholic news, has been covering the Catholic world for a quarter-century from Rome. He is a Chilean ex-patriate and veteran reporter for Vatican Radio who began his website in 2009.
Badilla has been described as “not old, but having lived several lives, one more adventurous than the next.” As a young man, he was a supporter of left-leaning Chilean president Salvatore Allende, and navigated the “delicate” circumstances at the time of the September 11, 1973 coup in which Allende was deposed (and, it has now been generally agreed, died by his own hand, shooting himself with an AK-47 assault rifle).
Allende’s appointed army chief and U.S.-backed successor, rightist Augusto Pinochet, established a military junta, after which Badilla left the country. For many years he did not set foot in Chile again; “Pinochet and I had an incompatibility of character,” Badilla says, dryly.
Today, Badilla directs his influential Rome-based website, called an “aggregator,” daily scanning and sifting through the internet for news related, first, to the Pope and the Vatican, and second, to the Church in the world, posting reports he feels are worthy of attention. Fellow journalist Marco Burini calls him “one of the most valuable, and least known, men in service to the Pope.”
Burini asked Badilla in a 2015 interview, “What is the feeling, the vibration in the news world today, on the Bergoglio pontificate?”
Badilla answered, “The interest has grown increasingly, higher today than when he was elected… it is, on the one hand, directed to the person, his lifestyle… the other side of this interest is around the Pope’s efforts for the Church, the reform, needs and underlying issues… The fact remains today — and I realize I say something strong — the agenda of the world is set by the Pope, and others arrive at it later. [For example,] since the Pope has visited prisons, now many leaders, political and religious, have set foot in prisons, perhaps for the first time in their lives.”
Another veteran journalist, the Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily La Stampa, Andrea Tornielli, has authored scores of books about the Pope and the Church, including This Economy Kills: Pope Francis on Capitalism and Social Justice, which he co-authored with Giacomo Galeazzi, and a new book in which he interviews the Pope.
Tornielli, holder of a degree in classics from the University of Padua, wrote for four years for the Catholic magazine 30 Days early in his career. After 15 years with the Italian daily Il Giornale, he joined La Stampa and began to edit its online bulletin Vatican Insider in 2011.
As a member of an elite group of journalists who cover the Vatican and the Pope daily, Tornielli has accompanied Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on numerous apostolic voyages outside Italy. In September, he traveled with Francis to Cuba and the United States on his first visits as Pope. John Paul Shimek of Catholic World Report interviewed Tornielli on the eve of that trip. Some of the interview is excerpted here:
How do you think Pope Francis’ visit to the US factors into his pontificate?
The part of his message focusing on social doctrine was misunderstood and badly presented by columnists and thinktanks in North America. Pope Francis and his message about poverty, his courageous denunciation of the economy that kills, are usually well-understood by normal people, but rejected by some intellectuals who want to teach the pontiff how to do his job and what the correct interpretation of the social teaching of the Catholic Church is.
What about the role he played in seeking to re-establish diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba?
Some are inclined to compare Francis’ role in Latin America to the role John Paul II played in the countries of Eastern Europe when communism fell. But this comparison does not hold water. First and foremost, geopolitics has changed… Second, because neither the Argentinian Pope’s Latin American cultural identity nor any structured political thinking are the main motivations for his actions. Rather, it is an evangelical and realistic approach to the world’s problems today that is the driver… With his geopolitics inspired by the Gospel, Francis is giving a voice to those who did not have one or no longer have one. He is trying to involve everyone in dialogue and negotiation processes, regardless of the politically correct vetoes of Western gurus.
Pope Francis said he could maybe see himself resigning from the papacy, like his predecessor… Do you think that could happen?
After the historic decision by his predecessor Benedict XVI, now the door “is open”… but only if his health deteriorates and it would not be possible for him to continue in his pastoral ministry.