Pope Francis became the Bishop of Rome and Pope in 2013 and in that occurrence, he also became the first Pope from the Americas as well as from the Southern Hemisphere – hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he’s the first Jesuit Priest to be made a Pope. In fact, he’s the first non-European Pope since 741 B.C. He also entered the position after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI – not the usual way a Pope leaves the calling. With all those firsts, has he also done more for the Catholic Church – beyond the usual expectations of a Pope? Will successors find his footsteps helpful or viewed more as a minor detour?
Throughout his career, Pope Francis has been known for his efforts with the poor. But as Pope, he’s continued with that emphasis as well as teaching more about God’s mercy than his judgment, and opening up dialogues with leaders and members of other faiths. He usually wears less ornate jewelry and clothing, preferring to be more approachable.
Though he supports traditional values of the church on issues such as priestly celibacy, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and the ordination of women, he teaches about acceptance of people and hopes to help all to a deeper relationship with God. He’s pro-environment and against consumerism without purpose. He probably straddles the line between traditional values and modern thinking better than most, especially considering his age and background.
Pope Francis is also very popular with most people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. When he opened a separate (from the Vatican) Instagram account in the Spring of 2016, he set a new record – reaching one million followers in just 12 hours – the previous record for that was held by David Beckham – taking 24 hours. So some could say he’s twice as popular as David Beckham – and that’s saying a lot.
Where the rift between Catholics and the Orthodox Catholic churches stretches back a millennia, Pope Francis, even before his Papal calling, acted as an advocate for the Orthodox churches and frequently attended their services while still in Buenos Aires. Because of that, he’s begun to heal some of the problems going back a thousand years. But his call for unity of faiths doesn’t stop there, he’s also worked closely with a number of other Christian churches as well as attended Rosh Hashanah in Argentina and prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
There are those who may disagree with his beliefs, but he has gained the respect and admiration of people around the world. He chose to call himself Francis as he became Pope – in honor of Francis of Assisi – and strangely enough, that’s just another first for the man – no other Pope before him has been called Francis.
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