Pope Francis, The People’s Pope

He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century

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Pope Francis
Illustration by Bryan Drury for TIME; Photo reference: Alessandra Tarantino / AP

While still in his home country, the future Pope also said that priestly celibacy is a recent development (it dates to about the year 1000) and has seemed open to change. Again, in Argentina, he startled conservatives by attending the funeral of a rebel bishop who left the church to marry, comforting the deceased prelate’s widow, who used to concelebrate Mass with her husband. Francis is sympathetic to people whose ­marriages have fallen apart: his only surviving sibling, María Elena Bergoglio, is divorced. In Argentina, he worked very closely with Catholics who were divorced and remarried, some of whom continue to take Communion. The Pope has called an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops—only the third such gathering in almost 50 years—in October 2014 to discuss pastoral challenges that face modern families, including sexual ethics, divorce, cohabitation and reproduction.

A place that measures change in terms of centuries doesn’t do relaunches often. It is important to remember that Francis has been Pope for less than a year, and a papacy can change character in midstream. In 1846, Pope Pius IX came to the throne as the great hope to liberalize Catholicism but by the end of his pontificate had become the great champion of conservatism—the font of infallibility and angry confrontation with secular powers like the newborn Italian state. The entrenched dynamics of the church can transform the would-be transformer.

A Day In The Life

Francis begins, ends and dots his day with prayer. He rises at 5 a.m. and prays until 7 before celebrating morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta chapel. He prays after Mass and again before breakfast. Then at 8 a.m., the day begins. He works through papers until 10, then meets with secretaries, Cardinals, bishops, priests and laypeople until noon, followed by lunch and a half-hour siesta. Six hours of work follow, then dinner and more prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He admits he sometimes nods off at this point, but says, “It is good to fall asleep in God’s presence.” He is usually in bed by 10.

On Wednesdays, he has a general audience around lunchtime in St. Peter’s Square, which brings in the multitudes. On a bright December day, the festive crowd numbers about 30,000. It’s the season of light, and Francis is talking about the Resurrection. He appears to have a cold; he needs the handkerchief tucked in his robes. But his voice is strong, though higher than you’d expect, and more musical, like that of a storyteller with a full range of context and characters to bring to his mission of making you listen. He has a script in hand because once he finishes the lesson, it will be repeated by priests reading in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Arabic.

Francis hopes to bring the gospel of mercy to the church—and the world.

Francesco Zizola / NOOR for TIME

Francis hopes to bring the gospel of mercy to the church—and the world.
See more photos of the Pope made for Person of the Year on LightBox .

But every so often, he can’t help himself. The script falls to his lap and he leans forward, looks out over the crowd and just starts talking, his hands in the air, his voice stronger now, doing his own call and response. Jesus is risen, and so shall we be one day, he tells them. And as though they might not quite grasp the implication, he pushes them: “But this is not a lie! This is true!” he says. “Do you believe that Jesus is alive? Voi credete?” “Yes!” the crowd calls back, and he asks again, “Don’t you believe?” “Yes,” they cry. And now he has them. They have become part of the message. He talks about Christ’s love like a man who has found something wondrous and wants nothing more than to share it. “He is waiting for us,” Francis says. And when he comes to the end of his homily, the script drops once more. “This thought gives us hope! We are on the way to the Resurrection. And this is our joy: one day find Jesus, meet Jesus and all together, all together—not here in the square, the other way—but joyful with Jesus. This is our destiny.”

Once the service ends, he greets the Cardinals in attendance on the dais, then walks over to meet first with the sick, then with special guests. Many have brought him gifts, mementos: a small statue of a merry Jesus on a yellow silk altar, a painting of Christ, a coffee-table book of photos from Austria. One man poses with him for a selfie; others do not want to let go of his hand. The ushers and security guards try to keep him moving, but he has more words to speak, pilgrims to meet and missions to launch before the day is over.

It’s hard to imagine a setting farther from Pasaje C. But if Francis can order his steps, it’s not so far at all.

—With reporting by Hilary Burke and Uki Goñi/Buenos Aires and Stephan Faris and Alessandro Speciale/Rome

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