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Pope Francis' eventful year in review

By Kayvon Ghoreshi
On March 14, 2014

This week marks the conclusion of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's first year as Pope Francis. He came into the position following the incredibly shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning as Pope, something that hadn't happened for centuries. He also inherited an institution that was in the midst of a cover-up scandal. Needless to say, Pope Francis had his work cut out for him.
As a non-Catholic with a Catholic education throughout both middle school and high school, I view Pope Francis' first year as laudable progress of bringing Catholicism in a direction I think it needs to go. From the beginning, I was impressed with his humility. He did away with many of the luxuries that have been afforded past Popes, such as the fancy Popemobile, in favor of a more frugal and plain vehicle. On his first Holy Thursday, he didn't wash the feet of a group of priests, but served a dozen young people being held at a juvenile detention center, including two women and two Muslims. His actions provide an example of not only being humble, but also being accepting of others, regardless of differences in creed.
Pope Francis also took a very reflective stance on the Church's tone in recent years. I do not expect the Church to come out and suddenly say that abortion or gay marriage is in line with Catholic doctrine; that simply isn't realistic, and if a change is ever going to occur in those areas it will require more time. However, Francis did acknowledge the fact that the Church had been focusing primarily on those issues while ignoring other ones, such as poverty, for far too long. Not only is service to the poor a more amiable focus for many people, but it doesn't have the same sharp divide as abortion or gay marriage. Clearly people have taken notice of this shift in paradigm, as 76 percent of U.S. Catholics said he was doing a "good" or "excellent job" of addressing the needs and concerns of the poor, according to a Pew Research survey this month.
While these are some of the bigger moments in his tenure, Francis has other commendable accomplishments. The Vatican bank has had a shady history with how it was being run and the relative lack of transparency it offered. Since becoming Pope, he has replaced four of the five cardinals supervising the bank, brought in outside consultants - the Promontory Financial Group - to review the bank's 33,000 accounts and set up an independent commission to look at structural reform for the long term. Additionally, he has brought outside help to modernize Vatican communications, overhaul accounting procedures and set up a new overarching finance ministry with an independent watchdog. While this certainly doesn't alleviate all concerns, it is nice to see that reform is taking place, and it has happened rather swiftly.
In more recent news, Pope Francis has opened the door for potential Church support in civil unions between gay couples. He didn't outright support them, but did acknowledge that it needs to be considered when looking at public policy, especially when it would provide health and economic benefits to gay individuals. Similarly, he has also considered the acceptability of contraception under special circumstances, such as to prevent AIDS and the contraction of disease, which is still an improvement over the previous "no tolerance" policy.
Pope Francis was the first Pope from Latin America. He was the first Jesuit Pope. He was the first Pope to take a selfie. But perhaps most importantly, he was the first Pope to take the name Francis, and with it, embody the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and his compassion for the poor. There are still major hurdles the Church needs to overcome, such as recovering from the sex abuse scandal, but if his first year is anything to go by, Pope Francis has the Church on the right path. 


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