The year started off seemingly as usual, with Pope Benedict XVI naming four new bishops, including his personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, at Mass for the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Then before the beginning of Lent, Benedict, citing the lack of energy needed to fulfill his office, stepped down from the papacy on Feb. 28, after nearly eight years as pope. The nearly unprecedented event sent people to their history books to find out if this had ever happened: It had, in 1415, with Pope Gregory XII.
The ensuing conclave March 12-13 presented to the world 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the first pope from Latin America. Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Francis, and in the first nine months of his papacy, he has tried to mirror the work of his namesake in both word and deed. In fact, one of his trips was to Assisi to pray at Francis’ tomb.
The Holy Father has made outreach to the poor and marginalized a key component of his papacy, just as it was during his tenure as priest and archbishop in Argentina. He has exhibited Christlike love for his children, whether in embracing a man covered in boils, hugging and whispering a blessing to a boy with severe physical disabilities or celebrating his birthday with four homeless men.
Turning aside talk of women’s ordination, he did say that there is not a "deep theology of women in the Church," and further discussion on the role of women is needed.
Although the mainstream media has tried to portray the Holy Father as at odds with his predecessors and with Church teaching on such topics as abortion, contraception, same-sex "marriage" and the male priesthood, Francis has shown nearly seamless continuity with Benedict, who is now pope emeritus and living in quarters at Castel Gandolfo, especially on Vatican reform and the New Evangelization.
However, Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff, informal way of speaking, and his frequent call for the Church to go to the "outskirts," has brought new emphasis.
Francis issued his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), in collaboration with Benedict, on July 5; and on Nov. 24, he issued his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). He presided over the closing of the fruitful Year of Faith, and he made a successful return to South America for World Youth Day (see page 4).
Pope Francis announced in late September that beloved Popes John Paul II (1978-2005) and John XXIII (1958-1962) would be canonized together on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Additionally, Pope Francis has continued the reform of the Vatican Bank begun by Benedict and has undertaken the major project of reforming the Roman Curia, forming an advisory board of eight cardinals and trusted friends.