Scott: A year ago today, the 1 billion Catholics around the world got a new leader: Pope Francis. And his election immediately caused a shake up. He is the first pope from outside of Europe in 1,200 years. And now, this pope from humble beginnings is all everyone is talking about.
Keith: Person of the year. Rock star. Superhero. He draws crowds in the millions, considered the most influential person on Twitter and most talked about person on the internet. No doubt, the pope is popular.
Student: He’s pretty awesome! He’s a cool pope.
Keith: A recent Pew poll found 85% of Catholics have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis. I talked with students at St. George Academy in New York City to find out what makes him so popular.
Student: Even though he has very high authority, he places himself on the level of regular people, which is very important.
Student: He seems like a pretty normal guy.
Keith: That is a big change from other recent popes. Francis drives an old Ford. Instead of fancy clothes, he wears old shoes and a simple robe. He lives in a small home and makes phone calls to his followers. He tweets and even poses for selfies.
Dexter Phillips: I feel like that’s a better way to communicate with younger people and also older people because everyone uses the internet nowadays.
Keith: Pope Francis has also taken a very different approach to church doctrine. While he hasn’t changed any of the rules, he has said church leaders should focus less on hot-button issues like abortion and same sex marriage and more on helping the poor and feeding the hungry. And he is taking on reforming the church’s government, bringing it into modern times.
The Catholic Church has been losing members for years. And many hope the ‘Francis effect’ – his celebrity status – will bring people back. But a year in and that is not happening. The number of Americans who identify themselves as Catholic is unchanged from a year ago – 22%. And of those Catholics, 40% say they attend mass once a week, also the same as last year.
Father Martin: I think things may lag. I mean, he’s been pope for a year and I think people’s faith lives… If you’ve been away from the church for thirty or forty years, it might take more than a year to come back.
Keith: The survey did find that about a quarter of Catholics say their faith has deepened in the last year, and many think that it will just take some time.
Do you think he potentially could bring a lot of people back to the church?
Serena: Yes, I believe so because people may have drifted away but then they see him taking selfies and everything and they want to follow up on that.
Dexter: Things that he’s doing will eventually lead to a change because more people will see that he’s trying to make a difference in the world. And a lot more people will start to agree with him so they’ll start following him, do what he’s doing and try to live a better life, get back to the church.
Keith: Keith Kocinski, Channel One News.
Scott: Pope Francis isn’t without his critics. Some think he hasn’t done enough to address the cases of abuse by priests. And there are some who think he has left too much room for debate about core Catholic beliefs.