- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

OWATONNA, Minn. (AP) - TIME magazine named him “Person of the Year” for 2013.

He’s also graced the cover of Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and even The Advocate, a gay and lesbian magazine.

And he has more 3.7 million followers on Twitter.

Those are credentials that a presidential candidate would envy, a rock star would crave. But they belong to Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and, if you believe some media reports, the biggest thing to happen to the church in years.


But on the eve of the anniversary of Francis’ election as pope, local priests are saying that the real difference between the Holy Father and his predecessors has been more in terms of form, not content, or style, not substance.

“Francis is less studied, more spontaneous (than the popes who preceded him). He has his own style,” said the Rev. Edward McGrath, the priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Owatonna. “But in terms of substance, there’s no difference. .For the Holy Father, it’s not a change in substance, but a change in emphasis.”

But has that change in emphasis, that change in style, meant a difference for the church in the past year?

Almost immediately after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope on March 13, 2013, succeeding Pope Benedict XVI, who retired, people began to notice the difference. In fact, his election itself marked a shift. He was the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside of Europe in more than a millennium. He was the first pope to choose the name “Francis,” a name that evokes the memory of both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order of which the pope is a member.

Then there have been his actions since he became pope - hugged a man who was covered with tumors, washed the feet of Muslim prisoners and chose less elaborate vestments, including shoes, than Pope Benedict before him. And, of course, he lives in a simple room in the Vatican rather than the more elaborate papal apartment.

“We’re all different,” said the Rev. John Sauer, the priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Owatonna.

Sauer noted that he, too, has followed other priests in other parishes and that he has been different than his predecessors. Popes have similar differences.

“Each pope has his own gifts,” Sauer said. “For Pope Francis, that’s mercy and being a pastor. That’s what he knows.”

And, Sauer added, that’s what the pope is doing now - being a pastor.

“Only on a grander scale,” he said.

McGrath went further, saying that much of the perceived differences between Francis and his predecessors have been the result of the way in which the media have reacted to Francis’ papacy.

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