(Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
As the one year anniversary of Pope Francis' installation as the head of the Roman Catholic Church draws near, many Catholics consider his tenure to be "extraordinary."
"Pope Francis has had an extraordinary first year and shown his unique ability to present Catholic teaching in down-to-earth terms and people hear him," Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Christian Post. "He has emphasized on numerous occasions his concern for the family, especially in its brokenness. He has said the Church should be a field hospital and he intends to heal. His emphasis on real pastoral needs of the church will be important."
Next week will mark one year since Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio was installed as the Bishop of Rome, being elected after Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement.
During that time, the Pontiff has garnered headlines for his remarks on faith and morality as well as gained popularity for his well-documented acts of humility and charity.
Walsh also told CP that she believed "his charisma" was a major character trait that Pope Francis has brought to the public.
"He's been on the cover of several publications including Time Magazine -- and style of encountering people as he lives out the Gospel message of mercy," said Walsh. "He has a remarkable ability to drive home the message of Jesus both by word and example. He is the pastor-in-chief."
The Very Rev. Mark M. Morozowich, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, told CP that Pope Francis' first year has given "huge blessings for the church."
"He stimulated a world-wide discussion of Catholicism and the need for a new approach. His own personality invites people to look anew at the spiritual life," said Morozowich. "I believe that so many people have been touched by his warmth and love. Although one year is not a long time, Pope Francis has made a huge impact on the world and on the Catholic Church."
According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in December, 88 percent of American Catholics approved of how Pope Francis was overseeing the Catholic church. In research released earlier this month, Pew Religion & Public Life Project found similar results, with 85 percent of United States Catholic holding either a "very favorable" or "mostly favorable" opinion of the Pontiff.
"One year into his pontificate, Pope Francis remains immensely popular among American Catholics and is widely seen as a force for positive change within the Roman Catholic Church," reported Pew.
"Seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, a sentiment shared by 56% of non-Catholics. And nearly everyone who says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better."
In addition to being the first Latin American Pontiff, Francis is also the first member of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, to become Pope.
Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, told CP that Pope Francis' "first year has been entirely a living out of the loving mercy of God."
"Doctrinal questions, while not ignored, have taken a very supporting role. People are getting used to the idea that Christianity is a proclamation of Good News," said Sheeran.
When it comes to change, Sheeran told CP that the next likely step "will be the speedy appointment of new bishops who mirror Francis' own emphasis on love and mercy."
"A good place to start would be to replace those bishops who are notorious for failure to act on sex abuse cases, so it becomes clear that such action is a serious expectation by the leadership of the Church," said Sheeran.
Regarding the issue of changes and potential reform, Rev. Morozowich of Catholic University told CP that the Pontiff should continue to press church involvement and prayer.
"Pope Francis needs to continue the emphasis upon the ordinary Christian and their role in furthering the church," said Morozowich. "Above all, Pope Francis' emphasis on prayer remains central. The highest power of the church is exercised by our communal prayer - our liturgy. His continual invitation to prayer and accentuation upon the Eucharistic Liturgy as the high point of our communal worship will provide the basis for the continual renewal and revitalization of the Church."