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Pope prays on anniversary after revolutionary 1st year

Francis continuing Lenten prayers during retreat

13 March, 17:48
Pope prays on anniversary after revolutionary 1st year (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 13 - Amid the good wishes, congratulatory messages, and retrospectives of his revolutionary first year as pontiff that flowed on Thursday, Pope Francis spent his anniversary in prayer at a Lenten retreat near Rome.

Supporters said that was typical of a humble pope who has become a reluctant superstar by behaving more like the medieval St. Francis of Assisi, whose name this pontiff took, than as the typical leader of the powerful, wealthy international organization that is the Catholic Church.

That also fits with what Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the powerful Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), said have been the keywords of Francis in his first year as pope: "poor...humble...sick....closeness...welcome," as well as his opposition to "the culture of waste".

The pope's words and deeds during this first year have made "our hearts desire to throb with the heart of Pope Francis," said Bagnasco.

As if to illustrate his humble nature, Francis issued a tweet Thursday on the papal Twitter account, @Pontifex with the simple message: "Please pray for me".

Since his election on March 13, 2013, the Argentine-born Francis 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.

The pontiff also appeared on the cover of The Advocate, an American magazine focussing on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.

Francis, who has forcefully rejected the superstar label, 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'?" noted 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 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.

But critics note that for all of his speeches, the basic doctrine of the Church itself, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion has not been changed.

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.

On his anniversary, Francis remained 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 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 - became the first pontiff in about 600 years to resign rather than die in office.

Meanwhile, congratulatory messages from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the United States bishops' administrative committee arrived at the same time as polls showed how high the pontiff is riding in public opinion.

In the pope's native Argentina, the newspaper La Nacion published a survey that showed that Francis has a positive image among 93% of those surveyed.