by Mia Rossi
With 3.5 million (and counting) Twitter followers, 27,000 on Instagram, and a cover story in Rolling Stone, it is safe to say that within almost a year, Pope Francis has made his mark outside the walls of the Vatican.
His down-to-earth demeanor and progressive ideas have beenconsidered both shocking and refreshing to people of all religious denominations across the world.
What many have called a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church began with the pope’s simple preference for wearing his own black shoes instead of the ornate red ones that were made for him, and which the majority of previous popes have worn.
He also resides in a Vatican guest house instead of the papal palace, is driven around in a car instead of a limousine, and prefers a modest silver cross to the traditional and more elaborate gold papal cross.
These choices are noted as a welcome sign of humility by critics of the church and what they claim is a long history of extravagance and excess in the Vatican.
The pope’s impact has grown since he was elected on March 13, 2013. Perhaps one of his most infamous moments was when he stated, “Who am I to judge?” when speaking about gay people in the Catholic Church. The comment resonated with people across the world, including those who are not followers of the church, and raised the possibility of change in the policies of the deeply conservative religion.
“The Pope’s comment is an amazing step forward for the Catholic Church,” said senior Matt Klingebiel. “A statement such as this in a world where more people are identifying as socially liberal makes the church more appealing to people whose faith has waned. This could lead to a potential revitalization of the church, and a victory for gay -rights activists.”
Pope Francis also strives to set an example of charity. It is rumored that he went into a poor area at night, dressed as a priest, to minister to his people. He also celebrated his birthday by sharing in a feast with a group of homeless men. Admirers of the pope say he portrays the true meaning of what it is to be a Catholic. For those who are not followers of the church, he appears to be a genuinely selfless person.
The pope has also recently made headlines with his plea to women to take on a greater role in the church. However, he has been careful to indicate that he does not support the ordination of women to the priesthood.
While Pope Francis encourages women to use their many talents to help in various church activities, he still continues to oppose the works and ideas of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a body that represents United States nuns.
The church has criticized this women’s group for focusing too heavily on social justice issues, rather than preaching against abortion. The sisters had hoped that the pope’s Jesuit background and focus on social improvement would result in a different reaction than the ones they had received from previous popes, but Pope Francis has not strayed from the Vatican’s critical opinion of this group’s work.
Although he remains true to his core Catholic values, the pope shows that he can accept the opinions of all people. Social studies teacher Jonathon Stack appreciates this open-mindedness in a religious leader.
“He is embracing all types of people, even if he may be morally opposed to them,” said Stack. “It should give us hope that even a conservative institution like the Roman Catholic Church can meet the needs of our modern society.”