Pope Francis gave his first Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, emphasizing acceptance and humility throughout his sermon. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the pontiff said, quoting from Isaiah. The grace that Jesus brought to the world, he said, “made salvation possible for the whole human race.” In his first nine months as pope, Francis has made an effort to promoting a less judgemental identity for the Catholic Church.
"Of gay priests, he has asked, "who am I to judge?" He has washed the feet of prisoners, refused to move into the papal palace and celebrated his recent birthday breakfast with three homeless men. On Monday, he made a Christmas visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict and asked him to pray for him.
"(He) is bringing a new era into the Church, a Church that is focusing much more on the poor and that is more austere, more lively, a Church that cares about everyone in the world," said Dolores Di Benedetto, who travelled from the pope's homeland, Argentina to hear him speak.
“I thought it would be very nice to hear the words of this pope close up and to see how the people are overwhelmed by him," said Giacchino Sabello, one of more than 10,000 people who packed St. Peter's Basilica or stood outside watching the ceremony on mega-screens."
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88% of American Catholics approve of how Francis is handling his role as head of the 1.2 billion-member church.
Nine months into his papacy, the Argentine-born Francis has captured attention with crowd-pleasing acts of compassion, from embracing a severely disfigured man, to washing the feet of juvenile delinquents, to hosting homeless men at his birthday Mass this month.
According to one study, Pope Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet this year, and even atheists have expressed appreciation for the 77-year-old pontiff.