Ever since he was chosen as the Leader of the Catholic Church on March 13, 2003, Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been making history as Pope Francis.
Many have called him radical—shocked by his different yet refreshing approach to his job title. Countless times he was admired for his extraordinary humility despite leading millions of faithfuls around the globe.
With his radical approach to papacy, blazing a trail of firsts is inevitable. Here are some of Pope Francis’ incredible (and historical) acts of kindness, humility, and grace that surely made His Holiness a household name—whether you share the Catholic faith or not.
FIRST NON-EUROPEAN PONTIFF
Pope Francis is the first non-European modern day pope. He is the first Jesuit pope of Latin American descent.
He is also the first pope to have the name Francis. His choice is said to be from St. Francis of Assissi, who is revered by the poor for living a simple life and avoiding luxury. Since the day he was announced, he lived up to his chosen papal name—wearing humble priest robes instead of the papal regal clothing. He also lives in a simple hotel apartment instead of the papal palace. Even back in Argentina, he is said to take the bus to work instead of the usual chauffeured limousine.
FIRST PRAYER REQUEST
On that fateful Wednesday that Pope Francis was introduced to the world from the Vatican balcony, he made history. Instead of raising his hands to the crowd waiting for him at St. Peter Square and blessing then, he asked the crowd—150,000 strong—to do something for him.
“If I can ask a favor before the bishop blesses you, I ask you pray for me,” asked Pope Francis. “Let us say this prayer, your prayer for me, in silence.”
Some would say that Pope Francis is no stickler for tradition. In fact, on his very first day as pope, he refused to be dressed in regalia and preferred to meet the people in his usual priest clothes.
“We have a pope who probably upset some people tonight by not following the formula,” the Rev. Tom Rosica said in a CNN report.
Even during meetings with cardinals, 76-year-old former Archbishop from Buenos Aires refused to use the platform to distinguish himself from the other priests in attendance.
“He said, ‘I’ll stay down here.’ He met each of us on our own level,” New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan recalled.
“As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a new Bishop of Rome,” Pope Francis said. “It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway. But here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace.”
CNN Vatican analyst John Allen even said, “the new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual.”
His radical ways inspired Vatican analysts to coin the term “Bergoglio Paradox” to describe his approach: he is conservative when it comes to the Catholic doctrine, but his ways of making himself more accessible to more people is seen as him being a reformist. Just some of his reforms include support for HIV victims and baptism of illegitimate children. He has also become very vocal when it comes to embracing the members of the LGBTQ community.
“Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” His Holiness asked in August 2013.
One of the earliest instances that Bergoglio showed his own brand of being pope was during a dinner after his appointment when he displayed his sense of humor and humility.
Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi recalled that night. The Pope thanked the cardinals and then said in jest, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
He shocked the cardinals even more when insisted on paying the bill.
“We are not used to all this,” Father Lombardi said.