June 21 marked 100 days since a plume of white smoke emanated from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, ushering a new era in papal history. Jose Mario Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, became Pope Francis and, in turn, became the first Latin American pontiff.
Instantly, the world was buzzing with the story of this new pope who would be an advocate for the poor, a man who impressed people with his frugal, humble style. But it was only after the he actually hit the ground running, or actually, hugging, that the true “Francis Effect” came to be known.
His warm embrace of an American boy with cerebral palsy on Easter Sunday instantly endeared him to the more than one million Catholics across the world. And he continues to work the huge crowds that gather loyally on St. Peter’s Square in Rome. At his weekly audience Wednesday, he hoisted a boy with Down’s syndrome up onto his Pope mobile and took him for a spin.
There aren’t definitive figures yet for this phenomenon, or for reports of an increase in confessions and also of Italians naming their babies Francisco, which is Francis in Italian. But growing anecdotal evidence shows attendance for the weekly papal Mass in Rome is up to 100,000 these days, more than three times what it was before Pope Francis’ installation.
Father Pat Brown of the Holy Apostles Church in Pimlico sees the new pope as an inspiration to the Catholic Church. “I would like all of us priests to be like Francis reaching out to people out there, Catholics who don’t feel there is a place for them in the church anymore,” said Brown. “There is a place for them, but their perception is that there is not. Francis is reaching out to say come home, and I think all we priests need to do the same.”