The irresistable Pope Francis
2013 has been Pope Francis's year
Pope Francis has taken the world by storm. He is loved by Catholics and Protestants alike, and even many who don't profess a faith are fans. His graceful humility and gentle kindness have earned him huge acclaim – and Time magazine's Person of the Year title - though he remains apparently oblivious to his global fan club. The stories that underline his papacy reveal a simple man, choosing to live out the Gospel in a way that imparts the love of Jesus and a heart entirely captivated by the grace of God.
It's hard not to jump on the bandwagon but there really are some good reasons for all the positive attention he has attracted, and here are just a few of them:
He really loves Jesus
Let's start with the basics, Pope Francis is infatuated with Christ, and not in an unobtainable, holier-than-thou way, but in a way that reveals a real, raw faith in Jesus. His apostolic exhortation released last month contained some gems that show how a belief in God has impassioned him with a heart that overflows with worship:
"Time and time again he [Jesus] bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew."
He is the first Pope to choose to be named after St Francis of Assisi
Upon being elected as Pope, then-named cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose his papal name to be Francis, after the 12th Century Italian Saint. This choice indicates the shared passion of the two men for the poor and vulnerable, as well as a desire to emanate and promote humility and compassion.
During his inauguration Mass in March of this year he spoke of the calling to be close to "the poorest, the weakest, the least important...the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison".
It was a sign of the radical shift in emphasis across the Catholic Church that was to come in his papacy and his Christmas address continues this call, urging the faithful to "act so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone! Our presence in solidarity by their side expresses not only through the words of but also through the eloquence of deeds that God is close to everyone".
He meets practical needs
Almost every week new photos emerge of the Pope going beyond what is expected of the highest member of the Catholic Church and meeting ordinary, struggling people, and blessing and honouring them. The world watched in amazement on Holy Thursday as he washed the feet of young prisoners, including a Muslim woman, taking upon himself a task that has until now always been passed on to lower cardinals. He recently kissed and prayed for a man with a terrible facial disfigurement without waiting to hear if it was contagious, and there are rumours that he sometimes sneaks out of the Vatican at night to meet and spend time with homeless people. He embodies a believer who has grasped Jesus' call to love people intentionally and practically.
"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," he wrote in his apostolic exhortation.
He has refused privileges usually offered to the Pope
As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, he rejected living quarters in the elegant archbishop's residence, instead preferring to remain in an austere room elsewhere. Similarly, he now resides in a small suite in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather than the luxurious papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace in Rome.
He also gave up use of the famous 'Popemobile', a Mercedes-Benz, choosing instead to travel in a 30 year old Renault 4 given to him as a symbolic gift of his humility by an Italian priest.
He is keen to get rid of corruption in the Church
Pope Francis has signalled his intention to clean up the Vatican's finances and introduce transparency to their monetary dealings. He has appointed a commission to advise him on reforms, and has repeatedly called for a "poor church for the poor".
The so-called 'Bishop of Bling', Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, was recently suspended after spending extortionate amounts of money (around £26 million) on renovations to his official residence. "A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties", a statement from the Vatican read.
He is fostering good relations with other religious leaders
Not only is he on excellent terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but Pope Francis has also been building relations with faith leaders outside of the Christian Church. He recently met with HE Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, in a landmark meeting that indicated Francis' strength in fostering unity.
In his apostolic exhortation he underlined the importance of Catholic-Muslim relations, and highlighted their common Abrahamic roots.
"We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition," he said.
He used to be a bouncer
His unusual past is surprisingly refreshing. The Pope revealed recently that he used to work as a bouncer at a nightclub in Buenos Aires when he was a student. There's nothing not to like about this!
Pope Francis manages nine different Twitter domains in various languages, and recent tweets include "This Christmas may we be consistent in living the Gospel, welcoming Jesus into the centre of our lives," and "To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone." His 8 million followers serve as an indication of his popularity.
His heart is for evangelism
Since his election to Pope, Francis has consistently appealed for Catholics to share their faith with others, and has worked towards transforming the way the Church does mission. His has been relentless in his call for the Church to be outward looking, and has declared that all believers are called to proclaim the gospel, encouraging them to "embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by joy".
He has named encounter with God as "the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelisation" and says that in order to lead a "dignifying and fulfilling life", believers must reach out to others in love and compassion. In their authorised biography of the Pope, Rubin and Ambrogetti label him as "the owner of an understanding that is both modern and spiritually profound about the Church and living the Gospel in challenging contemporary society".
There are few people not falling for the Francis effect. Not only is the Pope modelling a pious, humble and Christ-centred life, but he is inspiring others to do the same. His faith is infectious, and though many don't share his views, he has earned respect and admiration for his willingness to love without boundaries and remain faithful to his beliefs. His unwavering commitment to God and the humility with which he demonstrates his active faith has caused many an atheist to gush, and as one Catholic blogger writes: "Now with Francis, suddenly we're the cool kids on Church Street."