Pope Francis has led the Roman Catholic Church for about two and a half years now, and he has done things differently every step of the way, including before he was even elected. He is a man of firsts that is not afraid to point out the mistakes of the church in an effort to create a better, more accepting future.
Pope Benedict XVI announced in Feb. 2013 that he was resigning from the Papacy. He was the first Pope to do so in roughly 600 years, so there was no precedent to follow.
One month later, Jorge Bergoglio became the new leader of the Catholic Church. Since then, Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis I, has become known as a pope of many firsts.
On March 13, 2013, CNN published an article titled, “Pope Francis, the pontiff of firsts, breaks with tradition” that detailed when Pope Francis revealed himself “as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.”
From the get-go, Pope Francis has made his own papal history. After his appointment, instead of standing above everyone and blessing them in God’s name, Pope Francis stood next to the cardinals who elected him and asked the crowd at St. Peter’s Square to pray for him.
This action won me over right away. The leader of the Catholic Church stood in front of millions of people, both those in St. Peter’s Square and those watching on TV around the world, and he humbled himself and asked for prayers of guidance.
Only one month after his inauguration, Pope Francis announced that an international council of eight cardinals were appointed to advise him in the reforming of the Catholic Church, and he has been busy doing just that, making headlines as he goes ever since.
Daniel Burke, author of the CNN article “Pope Francis: No more business as usual,” said, “The 77-year-old pontiff has sought to awaken a spirit of joy and compassion in the church, scolding Catholic ‘sourpusses’ who hunt down rule-breakers and calling out a ‘tomb psychology’ that ‘slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.’”
In the two and a half years that Pope Francis has been the Catholic Church’s leader, there has been a great deal of history making and tradition breaking.
In July 2013, Pope Francis made the statement, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” at a news conference.
In December 2013, Pope Francis was named Time Magazine’s person of the year, only the third pope given the title, and he also visited with pope-emeritus Benedict XVI.
In July of 2014, Pope Francis apologized to six victims of church sexual abuse and said that Catholic bishops “will be held accountable” for not protecting the church’s children.
The headlines don’t stop there, though. In 2015 alone, Pope Francis has released an encyclical that addressed climate change, criticized how Catholics treat divorced couples, started holding church leaders accountable for sexual abuse and said that priests can forgive women who have had abortions during this “Year of Mercy.”
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” the Pope said in an official statement released by the Vatican.
Pope Francis is truly a breath of fresh air. He is fighting for Catholics that have lived their religious life on the outside looking in, and he is finally addressing major world issues from a modern standpoint.
Pope Francis is still adored by many even though he has spent the last two and a half years turning the church upside down, and, in my opinion, he is teaching many Catholics, priests and parishioners alike how to be more Catholic.
Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church through actions and not just words about how to forgive, accept, respect and love all different people in this world. If that’s not what being Catholic and Christian is about then I don’t know what is.