New Pope brings new life to church in first year of papacy

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Pope Francis (Photo: CNN)

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VATICAN CITY -- One year ago Thursday, the world's 1 billion Catholics were presented with their new spiritual leader.

Since that day, Pope Francis has come to be known as a man of many firsts, as well as a man of the people.

From the very beginning, all knew this successor to St. Peter would be different from others.

The first Pope from Latin America, the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope to actively condemn the "vanities" of his fellow churchmen.

Expensive vestments, golden crosses, luxury cars are out as far as Francis is concerned.

Few could have imagined how far the differences would go. The head of the Catholic Church kissing the feet of young criminals, some of them women and Muslims. No Pope had ever done that before.

Few would have predicted that within his first year, the prelate from Buenos Aires, Argentina, would engage four outside management consulting firms to recommend ways to clean up corruption and make the Vatican more efficient.

Few might have believed the head of the Church, once considered infallible by Roman Catholics, would humbly say "Who am I to judge?" when asked about the church and the gay community.

But as much as he is changing the image of the Church and recentering it on better addressing the needs of the deprived and downtrodden, there are some things observers believe will remain the same.

Few expect Church policy will be changing on abortion or marriage for priests. And in many regards if the era of Francis is showing every sign that it will mark a major turning point for the papacy and the Church, some observers believe there are still things he needs to do.

Despite any number of crisis and challenges over the past two millennia, the Catholic Church remains one of the longest surviving institutions in history, in part because it has been capable of reforms when they were necessary.

After the sexual scandals, the disaffection of many Catholics, the decline in the priesthood, the 266th pope in his first year has demonstrated he knows well that his church must change the way it operates, a reformation that comes none too soon for many of his faithful.

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