As afternoon turned into evening on March 13, 2013, in Vatican City, white smoke rose from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, signaling that a new pope had been elected.
About an hour later, the identity of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church was unveiled: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. He would be named Pope Francis, it was announced.
Since that moment, Pope Francis never stopped surprising the world ― Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
As the first pope born outside of Europe in nearly 1,300 years and the first Jesuit pope, he broke away from the Vatican’s many traditions and formalities with a new style focused on humility, simplicity and openness.
The name says it all.
“How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor,” Pope Francis said on the day of his election, explaining why he chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake. None of his predecessors chose the name of the 14th-century saint of the poor as their papal name.
Pope Francis (Yonhap)
In Vatican City, Pope Francis lives in a small suite in a guesthouse, rides an old used car and invites homeless people from the streets to his birthday lunches.
His humble, down-to-earth and approachable demeanor has set him apart from previous popes, earning him phenomenal popularity that none of his predecessors knew.
In speeches, too, he calls on the church to be inclusive, reaching out to people on the margins of society.
On the issue of homosexuality, which his predecessors either condemned or ignored altogether, he strikes a different tone, saying, “If a person is gay, seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Time magazine, picking him as the 2013 Person of the Year, said that he has pulled “the papacy out of the palace and into the streets.”
During his five-day stay in Korea, the pontiff will stick to his humble, simple lifestyle, insisting on using a small Korean car, instead of the bulletproof limousine that VIP guests like him are usually offered. He will stay in the room that the Vatican ambassador to Seoul has been using.
Last August, Pope Francis surprised the world once again by readily posing for a selfie with a group of young people. The photo, proclaimed “the first papal selfie ever,” vent viral on social networking sites.
In further proof that this 78-year-old pontiff is in tune with the modern world, he takes full use of Twitter.
Ever since his first tweet on March 17, 2013, asking Catholics to pray for him, the @pontifex followings in nine languages have grown substantially.
He now tweets regularly on issues ranging from spiritual questions, the value of domestic workers’ service and the World Cup in Brazil. His English account has 4.3 million followers.
A recent study on Twitter influence revealed that Pope Francis is by far the most influential leader on Twitter, beating out U.S. President Barack Obama.
It is no small feat, given that the Roman Catholic Church has been losing members in droves, with its reputation tainted by scandals and its relevance to the modern world increasingly questioned.
Youth is high on the agenda of the pontiff’s visit here. He will attend the sixth Asian Youth Day, a regional gathering of about 2,000 young believers, in the southern city of Daejeon.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)Pope Francis
● Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
● Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
● Studied in Argentina, Chile and Germany
● Became cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
● First Latin American and first Jesuit to become pope, the 266th to lead the Church
● Said to be a football fan, supporting Buenos Aires team San Lorenzo de Almagro