Profile on Pope Francis before his arrival
(WTXF) - Those lucky enough to experience a weekly Papal audience in St. Peter's Square, get an up-close look at the man who many believe has re-invigorated the Catholic Church, around the world.
Pope Francis, is a very special -- if unlikely -- leader.
The young priest known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio ministered to his flock in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He would ultimately be named Archbishop and later Cardinal, but -- says papal chronicler Rocco Palmo -- this shepherd never lost "the smell of his sheep."
"On his days off -- his vacation -- he would get on the bus and go down to the slums. And there, there was no finery, no 'your eminence.' Everybody knew him as 'padre,’” Palmo said.
In February of 2013, Pope Benedict the 16th shocked the world by announcing his resignation -- an unprecedented move that left the College of Cardinals scrambling to name a successor.
Bergoglio -- now 76 years old -- was preparing for retirement- had his apartment all picked out.
Father Daniel Joyce, with the Office of Misson at St. Joseph's university said, "That was his last act, as a bishop. He had submitted his resignation-- he packed very little. He didn't even bring his new shoes. And he had planned on going back and fading into oblivion-- anonymity as a retired archbishop and cardinal."
But fate -- and his fellow Cardinals -- had a different path in mind.
On March 13, 2013, Bergoglio was voted the first ever Jesuit pope, and the first non-European to hold the position in more than 1200 years.
He chose the name Francis, to honor the saint of Assisi.
Palmo says it quickly became clear Francis was not about to change his humble – frugal -- ways.
"One of the first calls he made was to his paper boy, just saying, 'okay, uh, I've been elected Pope, you've got to cut off my subscription to the newspaper,” Palmo said.
Bergoglio's election came as a surprise to many, but in retrospect, says Palmo, made sense.
Francis, he says, was brought in to reform the Vatican -- to take it back from the bureaucrats who had run it, unchecked, for so long.
And he was already a much needed evangelical witness -- with the credibility to re-introduce the gospel to a western world that had grown apathetic.
Fans of Francis quickly noticed his unique style.
As for substance?
Papal pronouncements on hot-button issues like gay marriage, divorce-- even abortion -- have led some to believe Francis is taking the church in a more liberal direction.
But our experts insist he is merely eliminating the traditional finger-wagging over these issues.
Palmo said, "Saying, the teaching of the church is clear, and I am the son of the church, does not negate your responsibility to be there for somebody. There's a term that Francis uses often – accompaniment -- the church is called to accompany people, whatever their situation."
Father Joyce said, "He's an excellent pastoral theologian. Because it's not just about theology of ideas- it's about ideas that apply to people's lives."
Not long after the world meeting of families here in Philadelphia, bishops from all over the world -- including our own Archbishop Chaput -- will meet to discuss issues of family life, sexuality, divorce and re-marriage.
Pope Francis will, of course, have the last word on all of those subjects.
His many admirers hope that whatever Francis decides, policy will be mixed with compassion.
They expect nothing less, from this humble man who once stooped to help the lowest of his brothers... and now carries the hopes, dreams and prayers of a billion Catholics on his shoulders.