March 13, 2015 — Today marks the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, and in the short time since he was elected, the first Jesuit pontiff has had something named in his honor: the "Francis effect." According to U.S. Catholic leaders who spoke at a March 10 teleconference organized by the religious advocacy nonprofit Faith in Public Life, the “Francis effect” provides both comfort and challenges to Catholics.
“One of the most significant things about Pope Francis is the way in which he is reimagining how the church presents itself to the world,” said Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter .
“If we think back three years ago, and you asked people in the street … ‘What’s the pope concerned about? What’ s the church concerned about?’ you’d get a very different response than what you’d get today,” Fr. Reese added. “In a sense, he has rebranded the Catholic Church.”
The Vatican recently announced that Pope Francis will address the U.S. Congress in September, a first for a pope. “When he stands before the Congress in six months, he will challenge everybody to think and act differently,” said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The two dominant themes of Francis’ papacy are “the joy of the Gospel and the mercy of God. These are different emphases for a church that, frankly, has been tempted by or perceived on fear and focused on judgment,” Carr said.
“The pope is not the Catholic Church,” Fr. Reese said. “For the Francis effect to take hold and really be long-term, people have to buy in to what he’s doing. We have to imitate him just as he’s imitating Jesus.”
Fittingly for a pope who has focused on mercy, Francis will devote part of his anniversary to hearing confessions at St. Peter’s Basilica as part of the annual 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, during which churches across the world stay open for 24 hours in order to emphasize the importance of confession. [Sources: Catholic News Service, Catholic Herald]