Pope Francis, in his genuine efforts to be the people’s pope and exemplify a new age Catholic leader, has inadvertently created a buzz of attention amongst his followers called the Francis Effect. After only a year of ascending to the top position within the Roman Catholic Church, the latest surveys have found that he has rivaled the popularity of Pope John Paul, becoming one of the most well-liked Pontiffs in this contemporary period of time with Catholics living in the United States of America, exceeded only by John Paul.
According to the Pew survey among American Catholics, Pope Francis appears to be generally perceived as a positive and powerful force of change within the Church. Going by the latest surveys, he has acquired an 85 percent approval rating by American Catholics, including half of that group who see him most favorably. Pope Francis comes close to personifying the late Pope John Paul, who was, according to the Pew Survey, one of the most, and possibly the most, dearly loved, if not adored, popes of the twentieth century.
Pope John Paul epitomized the people’s pope during his tenure as Pontiff in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The public could relate to him on levels never before experienced within the Church, because he related to them in a most human and genuine way. He participated in activities into which no pope before him had ever ventured. His involvement in world events and foreign affairs took on a new, sometimes startling, diversity. He faced the world and its issues bravely and squarely, always a champion for his people, who gave him, in return, their 100 percent support. In April of this year, Pope John Paul will be canonized and officially made a saint in the Catholic Church.
In the words of Greg Smith, Director of Religion Research for Pew, “It is difficult to compare the popularity of the two popes, because the first consensus on John Paul was eight years into his papacy. There were no readings after 2000 when word of the clergy sex abuse scandal was all over the news.” But senior correspondent, Matthew Bunson, explains how the first survey demonstrates what has been dubbed the Francis Effect, “Pope Francis has done a lot to repair the general public image of the Catholic Church in the wake of the sex abuse crisis.” It has been shown that people tend to respond to those kinds of proactive deeds. In this area, Pope Francis rivals the popularity of John Paul, both of whom approached the people on an equal, compassionate level.
According to Bunson, so much of a pope’s popularity has to do with his particular style. “There’s been, I think, an ability on the part of Francis to re-ignite a dialogue between the church and the modern world.” And isn’t that exactly what Pope John Paul did? Reach out to the people, talk to them in their own language and be among them?
The Church has always held its popes up as the personification of goodness and infallibility. That was the big question in the sixties… is the pope infallible? The Roman Catholic Pope is, after all, the religious leader of the world. They are called upon to exemplify piety, love, and religious devoutness. The pope shows the example that is to be followed, not only within the Church; the pope shows the example to the world.
In looking at the popularity of John Paul, he definitely created a John Paul Effect, whether or not that term was in use then, in his sincere relations with people of all backgrounds and opinions. In the same way, Pope Francis has displayed a natural ability to speak to people of all styles and persuasions in a personal, authentic way, rivaling the popularity of John Paul.
Opinion By Christine Schlichte