His words command attention, his actions even more so: Pope Francis, elected pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church 365 days ago today, is drawing plaudits from pundits on this first anniversary of his accession.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Buenos Aires, said he had been found almost "at the end of the earth" by his "brother cardinals" in the conclave. While not widely known outside of Argentina, Francis — the first Jesuit to be elected Bishop of Rome and the first pope to take the name Francis, after St. Francis of Asisi — has "fundamentally altered the way the powers of the papacy are exercised, not the content of that power, but the way it is exercised," said Vatican expert and Boston Globe associate editor John L. Allen, Jr., in remarks carried by Vatican Radio and published on its website.
Allen, who today published a new book about Francis called "Against the Tide: The Radical Leadership of Pope Francis," says the pontiff has reordered the priorities of a Roman Catholic leader: "Reaching out to broken and forgotten people seems to be far more important to Francis than many of the usual items on the papal itinerary," Allen wrote in the 64-page book.
More than any of his predecessors, perhaps, each of Francis' words and public statements are scrutinized and studied. The Catholic News Service listed 10 of what is reported as his "most quotable quotes" for a news story, including his advice to those wishing to share the Catholic message: "An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral."
That same news agency also offered the views of Jewish community leaders in Argentina — who knew the pope before his election — and say Francis is the same person he was prior to gaining a global parish.
"'He is a pastor who goes to seek his faithful,'" CNS quotes Rabbi Arieh Sztokman as saying. "'He is the pope of the people, for that reason he puts so much emphasis on education. He would walk through the streets of Buenos Aires, and (he) saw the people and their problems. He lived with a lot of humility, and he continues to do so as pope.'"
In the pews, notes Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association, Francis' words are drawing younger worshippers, the much-commented upon "millennials" to more participation, she claims in a Time.com piece: "Millennial Catholics in the United States are especially ready to respond to Francis’ call. We are the only American Catholic demographic that has shown a rise in mass attendance over the past decade. Our mass attendance rates have risen 8 percent, while other generations lag or hold steady. Millennial Catholic women are almost twice as likely as Catholic women overall to respond openly to the church’s teaching on sexuality. And we are the generation that polls both strongly concerned for poor children and for children in their mothers’ wombs. We are a generation that increasingly does not fit the political categories of our parents."
"My neighbors are not just the people whose property abuts mine. My neighbor is also is someone struggling across the border, someone starving in Sub-Saharan Africa, dodging a bullet in Israel or eking out an existence in a Palestinian refugee camp," she wrote. "When we integrate that awareness, it changes us."
Even the world of entertainment senses something special about Francis. Trying to drum up global enthusiasm for his upcoming film, "Noah" actor Russell Crowe has "flooded" the pontiff with Twitter messages hoping to arrange a screening at the Vatican. So far, Crowe's efforts have been unsuccessful, according to The Daily Beast.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Mark_Kellner