Pope Francis — formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — is fast approaching his first 100 days as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He's already notched up some notable papal firsts — first Jesuit, first from the Southern Hemisphere, first non-European in the modern era — simply by taking office.
1. Hands-On Humility
Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis seeks to connect personally with members of the Catholic faith (causing worry among his security detail, given previous attempts on the lives of popes). He presents himself as a servant to others, trying to counter the notion that a pope lives in a world of pomp and regalia above the Catholic congregation. For the ceremonial foot-washing that popes carry out on Holy Thursday the week before Easter — it reenacts Jesus' washing of the feet of the twelve disciples — Pope Francis went to a prison chapel in Rome rather than holding the event at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. There, he bathed and kissed the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention center, two of them women (causing worry among some traditionalists, given that all the disciples were men). Although the Vatican denies that a recent "hands-on" incident was an exorcism, Pope Francis exhibited the personal touch in calling to cancel his own Buenos Aires newspaper subscription upon becoming pope.
2. A Poor Church For the Poor
"I would like a church that is for and is for the poor," Pope Francis has said of the Roman Catholic Church. His papal name is a nod to Saint Francis of Assisi, the late medieval champion of the poor. Denouncing the "cult of money," Pope Francis has chosen not to live in the fancy papal apartments, and is continuing efforts to review the Vatican bureaucracy (especially its scandal-ridden bank, the Institute for the Works of Religion). Notably, he vetoed the customary bonus given to Vatican workers upon the election of a new pope (which came to nearly $2,000 per person in 2005).
3. Condemning the Mafia
The Vatican has had a controversial relationship with the Mafiosi in the past, at times casting a blind eye to them. But, a day after beatifying Rev. Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi — killed by the Mafia in Sicily in 1993 — Pope Francis excoriated the criminal syndicate, saying that they were effectively enslaving people by engaging in the trafficking of people and narcotics. It's a good cause and a noble sentiment, though it does cause still more worry for his security detail.
4. Owning Up to Church Hypocrisy On Sex Abuse
The Catholic Church has been rightly blasted for its failure to protect members of the faith from sexual abuse, and failing to identify and punish church officials committing the abuse. It's tough to reprimand the Mafia when you're sheltering child molesters. In the words of Pope Francis: "Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church's credibility". Critics point out that, as a cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis was absent on the issue. Let's hope that he walks the walk, and people remember his papacy as being pivotal in a scandal that has morally, spiritually, and (deservedly) financially crushed the Roman Catholic Church.
5. Atheists Can Be Good
This is sort of the flip-side of Pope Francis' insistence that Catholics avoid doing bad. During a recent homily, he said that Jesus had redeemed everyone, "not just Catholics … Even the atheists". A quick follow-up by a Vatican spokesman clarified that, "people who know the Catholic Church cannot be saved if they refuse to enter or remain in her." But, still, Pope Francis has spoken of non-believers as "our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man." His amiable disposition even extends to followers of other faiths: two of the recipients of his prison chapel foot-washing were Muslim.