After winning many hearts and minds with vows of change and personal deeds, Pope Francis' reform strategy moves into higher gear tomorrow when the man he appointed to take control of the Vatican's diplomacy and bureaucracy takes office.
Expectations weigh heavily on the shoulders of Archbishop Pietro Parolin, whose task is to rebuild the Vatican's focus on the world after decades of inward-looking decline and overhaul the Curia, the notoriously conservative, inbred administration that runs the Holy See.
At 58, he will be the youngest secretary of state - an office equivalent to that of premier - since 1930.
He will be the Pope's key man, channelling his reformist strategy to the world's estimated one billion Catholics, conveying his focus on poverty, peace and the impact of globalisation, seeking dialogue with Muslims and working to sustain the Church in oppressive countries.
Vatican insiders say Parolin is a bold choice for this job of chief executive-cum-statesman, and one that the Pope made after talks with trusted lieutenants. An ordained priest who entered the Vatican's diplomatic service in 1986, Parolin is viewed as one of the best and brightest of his generation, highly regarded for his connections but also his humility and ability to see things from the other's point of view. He speaks English, French and Spanish fluently with his native Italian.
The choice sends interesting signals, says British writer Paul Vallely, author of a biography, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots. "His right-hand man is a reformer. He is a man who builds bridges between the Church and the outside world. He is a man who is keen on the environment and international development.
"For a Pope who has signalled that he wants a Church for the poor, a Church which looks to the outside world rather than in on itself, and a Church which will reform its own malfunctioning bureaucracy, the appointment of Parolin is a key indicator of intent."
Parolin has taken on some of the toughest diplomatic jobs around. He has forged dialogue between the Vatican and Iran and North Korea, encouraged reconciliation between warring communities in Rwanda and woven contacts between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
At the Vatican's seat at the UN, he pushed on global development, peace and the environment. Between 2002 and 2009, he was undersecretary for relations with states, essentially deputy foreign minister.
He laid the foundations for advances in religious freedom in Communist Vietnam, giving the Vatican the right to approve bishops there. He re-established direct contact between the Holy See and China in 2005. In April 2007, according to a source, he helped secure the release of 15 British navy personnel who had been seized by Iranian forces in the Gulf.
"Parolin is quite delicate, refined, calm, a patient diplomat. He did a good job dealing with relations with Vietnam," says a fellow Italian priest in a senior post in the Vatican. "He won't sell out religious freedom in exchange for diplomatic recognition."
In 2009, Parolin went through a wilderness period. Failing to fit in with the conservative Benedict XVI, he was dispatched as papal nuncio, or ambassador, to Venezuela, but this turned out to be a boost for his career, for he skilfully handled a threat to relations initiated by the late firebrand President, Hugo Chavez. It also burnished his credentials with Francis, a Latin American passionate about the Third World.
The man Benedict chose to be Parolin's boss, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, was a loyalist but a neophyte in diplomacy. He had a torrid time and many in Rome privately regarded him as out of his depth. "The Vatican has always wanted to be a global player so getting somebody in the job who knows what they are doing is important," said Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit academic and commentator. "[Parolin] is a real professional who appears to know what he is doing. He appears to be solidly in step with Pope Francis in his agenda for the Church in the future."
After being named on August 31, Parolin thanked the Pope and appealed for support through prayer to do his job. "This call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor. For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all."
A task will be to clean out the Curia, whose reputation for corruption, inefficiency and nepotism, revealed by the "Vatileaks" scandal, prompted Bertone to offer his resignation to Benedict, although this was refused.
Parolin's advantage is that "he is a man who spent most of his working life outside Rome, so he has seen the dysfunction of the Curia from the outside." said Vallely. He also knows the structures of the Curia and may be helped that he is an Italian, from the influential Veneto region.
Bertone in September gave an insight into Parolin's challenge. He said he had done the best job he could, but "there were problems, especially in the last two years," he said, blaming "a mix of crows and vipers".