'Francis effect' brings compassion to parishioners

(From TIME)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – He's transformed the perception of a 2,000-year-old institution in a very short time.

That's what the editors of Time Magazine are saying about Pope Francis, its choice for Person of the Year in 2013.

Historically, change in the Catholic Church can take centuries, but Francis and his man-of-the-people approach to the papacy have managed to change hearts and minds of people all over the world, including here in northeast Florida.

"I can't tell you how many times I'm just walking in the streets of St. Augustine and a non-catholic will stop me and say, 'We really like your pope,' or, 'We really love Pope Francis and what he's doing,'" said Father Tom Willis, of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

While Willis said he doesn't think there are more people going to Catholic churches in the area, the "Francis effect," as he calls it, has brought more compassion to parishioners.

His rejection of opulence and his accessibility to all kinds of people have made him especially popular with young people, like some Flagler College students who see the church in a different way now.

"Less about the rules, more about just having community and finding ourselves within that," said student Alyssa Bantad, who's Catholic.

"It's impacted me, for sure," student Bayley Warther said. "I'm very appreciative of how he goes about his job."

Religion Professor John Oliver, who left the priesthood in 1990, said Pope Francis is a simple man who knows the importance of just talking about controversial issues.

"He has not changed any doctrine, he's not done anything but change the tone of the conversation, and the tone is far more compassionate," Oliver said.

The pope, Oliver said, represents change -- change that can bring joy.

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