Pope Francis’ message of renewal seems to be taking hold not only on the devotees, but also on those who had distanced themselves from the Church. This is according to many priests and religious officials who say that the number of people attending Mass and going to confession is increasing, while St. Peter's Square in Rome is more packed than ever for the pope’s weekly appearances.
“He represents something new, and that has struck everyone. There are so many returns to religion, even after decades,” said cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence.
“Francesco finds his way especially into the heart of those who got away from Christianity, and they are enthusiastic,” said Giovanni D’Ercole, bishop of L’Aquila.
The effect is not just felt in Italy, but around the world. In an interview with CBS This Morning, cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said: "I can't walk down the streets of our beloved New York without people coming up to me and saying 'Hey, thanks for Pope Francis. You guys did a good job. We love him. I hear from our parish priests, who are always on the front line, they're telling me the crowds at Sunday mass are up, the confession lines are longer, inquiries about the Catholic faith are more abundant and even the collections are going up."
The Pope Francis effects has been documented in a book by Cesnur (Center for Studies on New Religion) director Massimo Introvigne, "Il segreto di Papa Francesco" (Pope Francis' secret), where he surveyed 250 Italian priests on church attendance, confirming the increase in numbers.
To this increase, the Pope has replied saying: "This has nothing to do with me. It has to do with God."
Pope Francis has recently sent out a questionnaire to the roughly 1 billion Catholics around the world to ask for their opinions on several issues, including same sex marriage, contraception and divorce.