It's been a year since Argentina's Jorge Bergolio became the 266th Roman Catholic pope. Although he is 77 years old, the new pope has brought fresh energy to one of the most staid institutions in history.
Leaving behind the stiff formality of his predecessor, the new pope's humility, casual style and moderate tone immediately endeared him to millions of Catholics as well as the media and a good number of non-Catholics. Here are some highlights of his year:
• The morning after being chosen pope, Francis surprised staff at the hotel where he was staying by checking out in person at the front desk.
• He urged fellow Argentinians to give money to the poor, instead of spending it on travel to his inauguration.
• Shortly after his inauguration, Francis told a gathering of about 5,000 journalists: "Oh how I would like a poor church, and for the poor."
• He set aside some of the fancier vestments worn by previous popes and chose a modest guest house instead of the grandiose papal apartment.
• He abolished certain bonuses paid to some members of the church's governing body, the Curia, and took steps to reform the troubled administration.
• At Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square Francis stopped to kiss and embrace a young boy with cerebral palsy.
• On another occasion at St. Peter's, the pope kissed and blessed a severely disfigured man in the crowd.
• For the traditional Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony, Francis broke with tradition, going to a juvenile prison where he included a Muslim and two young women in the ceremony.
• Officially, Francis has held the church's hardline positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex issues and ordination of women, although in some cases he has been able to do so in a non-hardline way, emphasizing love and tolerance over doctrinal rigidity.
• At a baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel Francis encouraged mothers in attendance to breastfeed their children without inhibition: "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here."
•Francis has 3.8 million followers on Twitter.
• During a visit to Brazil, an estimated three million people gathered on Copacabana Beach to hear Francis.
• The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said the Vatican has not acknowledged the extent of sex crimes committed by priests and “has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children.”
• 70 percent of Italians say the pope's words have influenced their daily lives. Those who work with the poor in Rome, say more people are volunteering to help. But while 85 percent of Americans have a favourable view of Francis, the number of people attending Catholic churches in the U.S. has not increased. [http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2014/0317/One-year-on-has-Pope-Francis-lured-more-people-into-the-pews]
The challenge ahead for Francis is to ensure that his “gentle revolution,” as Rolling Stone called it, will not be sidetracked by the deep divisions within the church over abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and ordination of women. And, of course, if the message of compassion and love for the least is to prevail, Francis will have to take decisive action to address the far-reaching sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has plagued the church for many decades.
--Posted March 26, 2014