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Pope rides high in approval ratings on anniversary eve

Celebrity pontiff celebrating one year since election

12 March, 16:48
Pope rides high in approval ratings on anniversary eve (ANSA) - Rome, March 12 - Fully 87% of Italians surveyed said they approve of the work of Pope Francis, according to an opinion poll released on Wednesday, the eve of celebrations marking the first anniversary of the pontiff's election.

The survey by the private Eurispes institute found support for Francis has given a new impetus to the Catholic Church with 87.1% saying they approve of his work, compared with 4.5% who said they were skeptical and 8.4% undecided.

Those findings are only the latest evidence of the worldwide interest and even support for Francis who, since his election on March 13, 2013 has captured the imagination of billions of people with his simple, folksy style, happy smile, and his willingness to speak out on concrete issues of poverty, social justice and human rights.

The much-photographed pontiff has been recorded washing the feet of juvenile convicts, including young men, women, Muslims and Catholics; and embracing a man with a deformed face who braved the crowds that throng St. Peter's Square these days to see the former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Francis was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013 for forceful moves to re-energize the Catholic Church, reform its management, widen its appeal, focus on social rather than doctrinal issues, and renew a drive against clerical sex abuse.

"He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing," Time said on its cover, dubbing Francis "the people's pope" who it says has already become a "superstar".

Rolling Stone magazine has also put the 77-year-old Francis on its cover and earlier this month, the pope was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work urging forgiveness and reconciliation. Observers have also praised the pope's use of technology, including his widely followed Twitter account, to reach as many people as possible, and his love of soccer has won over many fans.

Francis has also won converts for his reform plans for the Vatican Bank and willingness to accept individuals whose lifestyles have traditionally been condemned by the Church. "He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, 'who can remain unmoved before such painful situations'?" asked Time magazine.

"Of gay people (he said) 'If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge'," noted Time said in its cover story of the pope. It also noted that Francis had taken on the Curia, or executive body of the Church, which the Vatileaks scandal helped reveal as prone to dysfunction and cronyism.

"Francis has been particularly busy," Time said, "shaking up the Curia with his preference for new faces over old ones".

In a "long overdue" move, Time said, a group of eight senior cardinals, following the pope's direction, named a new commission on sex abuse in late December.

Francis has won plaudits for his humble style and in an interview earlier this month, said it seemed "offensive" to depict a pope as a star or superman.

"The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps well and has friends like everyone else. A normal person," Francis said in an interview published by Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

As his anniversary approaches, Francis has been immersed in a Lenten retreat in Ariccia, a suburban hilltop town 16 miles from Rome.

It is the first time a pope and his Curia are not spending the Lenten retreat on Vatican grounds but instead, headed for the countryside to get away from city life and focus on spirituality, Francis has said.

The pope's decision to travel there by bus recalled when, just after being named pope, he waved off the "solemn" pontifical car and insisted on going back to the cardinals' residence in a minibus with his former colleagues who had just elected him.

His repeated shunning of perks and pomp have earned him plaudits for attempting to follow the example set by the saint Francis of Assisi whose name has been borrowed by the pope.

His election followed the shock resignation of former pope Benedict XVI who announced in February 2013 that he did not feel fit enough to continue the job.

With that, Benedict - who continues to live inside the Vatican - become the first pontiff in about 600 years to resign rather than die in office.