As if his Time Magazine Person of the Year award is not enough evidence, Vatican released on Thursday visitor data that confirmed Pope Francis is an extremely popular figure with the status of a celebrity or rock star.
His rise to global popularity, just barely 10 months after his election as head of the 2 billion plus Roman Catholic Church, however, is not the handiwork of media buzz, but a translation of how his genuine faith and love radiates.
Thus, it surprises no one that in his 10-month reign, Pope Francis attracted over 6.6 million people to the Vatican, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. It is almost thrice the 2.3 visitors who visited the Holy See in 2012, when the pontiff was still Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis has been breaking records, including number of Twitter followers, but has also been breaching Vatican protocol which has endeared him more to the faithful.
The former Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is known to have taken public transport, refused the luxury cars used by his predecessor, cooked his own meals, opted for a simple accommodation than a palatial residence, sneaked out at night to give alms to the poor, washed the feet of prisoners, offered a Swiss guard a chair and snacks and hugged a severely disfigured man.
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The basis of the 6.6 million visitors released by the Vatican are the number of tickets issued for papal events such as general audiences, Masses and private audiences and also estimates of people at events where tickets are not required such as his weekly appearance from a window that overlooks St Peter's Square.
Because of the huge crowds that Pope Francis draws, with over 100,000 attendees during a general audience or Sunday address, Rome police have to close off the boulevard that leads to the Vatican to accommodate more pilgrims.
The tickets to these events are free, issued by Vatican's Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and often distributed via parishes and church institutions.
It excluded the numbers of people who attended his foreign or other local audiences such as the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro and events in Assisi and Lampedusa in Italy. During the final event of his Brazil trip on July 28, an estimated 3 million attended the gathering on Copacabana Beach.