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From Pope Francis to Ted Cruz, the breakout stars of 2013

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Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December in Moscow, Russia. Snowden, who exposed extensive details of global electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, has been in Moscow since June.

Through their brave, moving, brazen or otherwise unpredictable actions, 10 breakout stars of 2013 shaped our world, grabbed our attention, got us rooting for them and dominated our conversations.


Cardinals from around the world gathered in the Vatican to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis

The first non-European pope in more than a millennium and the first from Latin America, Pope Francis has quickly captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Francis, who was also voted Time's Person of the Year, rose to prominence since his March election as a humble and compassionate figure who is helping re-brand the Catholic Church as a more welcoming institution for rich and poor alike. 

Malala Yousafzai
The 16-year-old Pakistani activist became a symbol of courage and resistance against the Taliban for continuing to speak out in support of women’s right to education. Malala was shot in the head last year while on a school bus near her village in northwestern Pakistan by militant forces after receiving death threats for her outspoken activism following the Taliban’s decision to ban girls from schools in her region. Malala recovered from the incident after being flown to Britain for surgery and her courage earned her international support and recognition as the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
After winning the Iranian presidential election with a campaign for “moderation and wisdom” in June, President Hassan Rouhani offered a promise of reform after eight years of international tension sparked, in part, by controversial statements made by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has since embarked on a more open international plan of diplomacy with the West, which included a telephone call with President Barack Obama and a tentative nuclear agreement. 

Erich Schlegel / Getty Images, file

State Sen. Wendy Davis 13-hour filibuster helped defeat a restrictive abortion bill in Texas. The bill eventually passed at a special session of the legislature.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis 
Wendy Davis rose to national prominence when she staged a 13-hour filibuster in June to prevent a vote on a restrictive abortion bill in Texas. The bill ultimately passed, but Davis and the pink tennis shoes she wore during her stand catapulted the Fort Worth Democrat to national fame as a champion for women's rights — a platform she hopes to translate into a successful run for governor.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
His 21-hour Senate talk-a-thon in September made him the face of Republican opposition to Obamacare, and with it, the government shutdown. Though his efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful in defunding the law, his outspoken opposition to it helped him garner considerable media attention and huge accolades from conservatives. While in the spotlight, the Texas firebrand basked in the speculation about his 2016 plans and hinted at a White House run by visiting early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Edward Snowden
Love him or hate him, the 30-year-old computer whiz brought some of the year's biggest revelations when he leaked classified documents about the National Security Agency's extensive surveillance programs. A thorn in the side of Obama administration, which has had to appease the indignation of both domestic and international players stemming from the revelations, Snowden is currently in Russia, which granted him a one-year visa while he seeks a permanent home. 

Ramin Talaie / Getty Images, file

Leukemia survivor Miles, 5, dressed as BatKid, visits AT&T Park as part of a Make-A-Wish foundation fulfillment November 15, 2013 in San Francisco. The Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area foundation turned the city into Gotham City for Miles by creating a day-long event bringing his wish to be BatKid to life. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

Five-year-old Miles Scott, who is recovering from leukemia, won over even the most cynical among us when, thanks to The Make-a-Wish foundation, he spent a memorable day in November assisting his favorite superhero in San Francisco. Thousands turned out in support, and even President Obama sent well-wishes.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight
The three women were rescued in May from captivity in a Cleveland house where they had been held by Ariel Castro, who was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. He was later found dead in his cell, where he had hanged himself. The women had disappeared between 2002 and 2004. In Castro's house, they endured years of beatings, rape, starvation, and other horrific forms of abuse.  

Jennifer Lawrence
Whether she’s stumbling over her words during an awards speech or literally stumbling en route to make an awards speech, Jennifer Lawrence proved that, unlike many celebrities, she really is like the rest of us. The Oscar-winning star of The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook has seen her career skyrocket recently — but seems to remain grounded. Her fans love that she promotes a healthy body image and speaks out against the pressures of Hollywood. But that doesn’t mean she’s not lured into the excitement of the red carpet every once in a while — at the Oscars, she was intent on meeting NBC weatherman and all-around superstar Al Roker

A new mammal species was confirmed by scientists, and it's already melting hearts. The olinguito, described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear, was the first new carnivorous mammal identified in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. 

Mark Gurney / AP, file

Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it's hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did overlook the olinguito — until now. The rare discovery of a new species of a mammal was a highlight of the world of science in 2013.

NBC News' Elisha Fieldstadt, Andrew Rafferty and Daniella Silva contributed to this report.