Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope as leader of the world's 1.2 billon Catholics.(Photo: Damian Dopacio, AFP/Getty Images)
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
VATICAN CITY - One-hundred days after Francis became the first
non-European pope since the eighth century, the main difference between
him and his European predecessors has more to do with style than
Francis made his humble and pastoral style known
to the massive crowds in St. Peter's Square three months ago, when he
refused much of the garb and traditions that come along with the job.
Since then, he has celebrated public Masses almost daily, mingling with
adoring crowds and shunning the sprawling papal apartments for a small
and simple studio.
"Christianity is more than anything a style,
and Francis has brought his own style as a pastor and a leader by
example to this job," said Alberto Melloni, a professor of Christian
history at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. "This is not
superficial; it is essential."
It is a style that resonates with
Catholics. Despite bad weather in recent weeks, crowds in St. Peter's
Square during papal Masses have swelled since Francis became pope. Roman
hospitals have reported that the name Francis - already a popular one
in Italy - has become significantly more popular over the past three
"What you see when you see a humble man like Francis is what I think
of as being Christ-like," said Fellipa Sandroni, 44, an administrator in
a Catholic school, who was at the Vatican for the papal Mass Sunday.
"He is inspiring."
Nanou Robez, 72, a French national who has
lived in Rome for 50 years, said, "It is wonderful to finally have
someone in the Vatican who seems to personify the lessons of the
After the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28,
many Vatican experts listed changing the Vatican bureaucracy and
confronting corruption and scandal within the Holy See as the top
challenges for his successor as pontiff. Francis has done little in
Tackling the Roman Curia - the Vatican's main
administrative bureaucracy - will probably wait until October, when
Francis is likely to appoint a Vatican secretary of state and the eight
members of the College of Bishops.
"There will be many changes in
the coming months; there is plenty of time for that," says Paolo
Rodari, a prominent Vatican expert with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.
"But what he is doing now is putting his stamp on the papacy, and that
will have an impact when he takes on more temporal issues.
is not a question of power and influence," Rodari said. "It is about
shedding light on the least important among us, about loving our
neighbors, setting a certain example. This will create an authority that
will make taking on certain difficult issues easier later on."
to live in the 12-room papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace
overlooking St. Peter's Square in favor of the modest St. Martha's
guesthouse is probably the pope's most symbolic decision, some observers
said. The apartments, which include a private library, a chapel and
priceless artwork, had been the official residence for popes since the
"I love the fact that Pope Francis said he didn't
want to live amid all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional
apartments," said Arnel Ramos, 39, a Filipino parish priest studying in
Rome for a year. "I interpret it as a way to say he doesn't care too
much about the way popes have done it in the past. He is going to do it
his own way."
Francis' papacy is marked by many historical firsts.
In addition to becoming the first-ever pope from the Western Hemisphere
and the first non-European pope since Gregory III in 731, the Buenos
Aires-born Francis is the first pontiff since Boniface VIII in 1294 to
take up his post while his predecessor (in Boniface's case, Celestine V)
is alive. (Gregory XII resigned in 1415, but he died before a successor
was named). In fact, Benedict lives nearby, in a house on the Vatican
Is Francis' style as pope a rejection of the eight-year reign by the more distant and cerebral Benedict? Experts say no.
pope is supposed to bring his own style to his post; he is not bound by
his predecessor," said Melloni, the Christian history professor. "Of
course, most of the time, this is not done with the predecessor living
in a house in the garden. But Benedict vowed when he resigned that he
would accept the path the Holy Spirit chose for him and the church, and
this is that path."