“Thinking of the next pope,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio wrote before the last papal conclave, “he must be a man who from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ helps the church to come out to the existential peripheries.”
On March 13, Pope Francis celebrated his fourth year as the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. During his tenure so far, Francis has written an encyclical on climate change, visited 23 countries, and amassed 33 million Twitter followers. The anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the 76-year-old Jesuit’s reforms so far, and to consider what effect these reforms will have in the future.
The first pope to hail from the Americas and the son of Italian immigrants, Francis has made mercy, ministry to the poor, and accompaniment the three central tenets of his papacy, according to the National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters. “We have had four years in which the universal pastor of the church has unrelentingly called attention to the plight of the poor,” Winters writes.
Pope Francis has been an outspoken advocate for refugees and migrants since the beginning of his papacy. On his first official trip outside Rome, the pope visited Lampedusa, an Italian island notorious for the North African refugees who drown offshore. “God asks each one of us: ‘Where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?’” he said in his homily, striking a blow against what he calls “the globalization of indifference.”
Francis has also gained widespread affection for his simple lifestyle and humble demeanor. Immediately after his election as pope, Francis rode the shuttle bus back to his hotel and paid his bill in person. He chooses plain black shoes over the traditional red loafers, and lives in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments. "In the end, humility also means service," he said in his Palm Sunday homily in 2015. "This -- the pouring out of oneself -- is the greatest humiliation of all."
The pope made headlines across the world when he published his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia in 2016, after two years of meeting with bishops from around the world for the Synod on the Family. The document addresses a range of issues relating to marriage and the family, and raises the possibility of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist in some situations.
"When has teaching on sex and marriage ever been handled like that?" said Lisa Sowle Cahill, a Boston College theology professor, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. "Never," she answered.
“He has changed the conversation about the church and our country, and we are very grateful for that,” said Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the pope. Francis is a “blessing for our church and our world” O’Malley says, and the pope’s teachings and example are “a great source of encouragement to our people.”