By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “Rock Star Status.”
That’s not the way Vatican analysts usually describe a Pope.
But after two years of a Pope Francis papacy, “Rock Star” seems to be part of his early legacy.
On March 13, 2013, the Catholic world didn’t know what kind of Pope Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires would become.
Soon, the words humble and reformer were being used in the same sentence.
Now, Pope Francis, at 78, begins his third year, which is expected to be pivotal for him and the Catholic Church.
On his second anniversary, Francis wore the symbolic purple of penance at a Vatican Lenten service. From his pulpit, he announced his decision for an Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.
It’s a call that fits the Francis style.
“Francis’ rhetoric on mercy and compassion resonates because of who he is. They look at him and see a merciful and compassionate man,” said John Allen, a veteran journalist covering the Vatican who has watched closely the dynamic of this papacy.
“The global narrative is ‘Rock Star Pope takes the world by storm.’ He has utterly revitalized the fortunes of the Catholic Church. In many ways, that is his signature accomplishment over these two years.”
Yet, year three, may test him.
Peeling back the layers on Vatican reform is ongoing. He’s up against the “old guard of the Curia” especially with finances. Francis has taken bold steps to get control.
The pain of clergy sexual abuse lingers. Holding bishops accountable in cases of abuse among their priests still is unclear.
And then, there are the issues surrounding families, especially those families that aren’t traditional — divorced and remarried couples, who can and cannot receive communion, gay marriage, and contraception.
A Synod on the Family this October is expected to be met with more division from doctrinal hard-liners and those who have seek a more open interpretation.
“Pope Francis isn’t changing doctrine, but inside the Catholic church there is doctrine and then, there is a pastoral application of that doctrine. It is on that second level, where the Francis revolution is being felt,” said Allen.
T.J. Cusack is young Philadelphia Catholic, eager to hear Francis in Philadelphia.
“I expect him to put the emphasis on family and family life. What does that look like? Would love to see him motivate us and reach out to people and find the best way to connect people to faith and to connect them to God. That’s the real point. ”
Calling for the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy responds to a message that’s been consistent with this Pope who has washed the feet of prisoners at a Holy Thursday service and has called for the Church to be merciful with each other and serve the poor around the world. The Holy Year of Mercy will ask for special prayers between December 8, 2015 and November 20, 2016.
The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia will cap a three-city U.S. visit in September. Leading the preparation is Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. In Philadelphia this week, Paglia sees the “Francis Effect” simply.
“Pope Francis is really a fantastic evangelizer,” said Paglia. “He really reaches all hearts of the people. Believers and non-believers.”
“This is the guy who now has the biggest and most important spiritual and religious bully pulpit on the global stage. No one can ignore what he has to say, “ said Allen, in Philadelphia for a lecture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Addressing both the Congress and the United Nations before arriving in Philadelphia, the Pope is expected to speak in defense of the poor, about immigrant rights and the protecting the environment and he will do that primarily in English.
Francis is said to be nervous about his command of English.
“Whatever his limits in English might be, it has not stopped him from getting a 90 percent approval rating,” said Allen.
More proof of that may be attendance at the Papal Mass here, where two million people are expected to make a pilgrimage to see him.