VATICAN CITY: Pope Francismarked the first anniversary of his election Thursday in prayer and quiet contemplation of the meaning of Lent, far from the adoring crowds and controversies of Rome.
In keeping with his tendency to eschew much of the pomp and ceremony associated with his role, the anniversary was not marked in any official way, with the exception of a solitary tweet from the official @Pontifex account.
“Please pray for me,” the 77-year-old wrote in nine languages to his 12 million followers, echoing an appeal he made in his first address from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica exactly one year ago.
The pope spent the day on a pre-Easter spiritual retreat in the Castelli Romani, a picturesque area on the southeastern outskirts of Rome. He left the Vatican Sunday after his weekly blessing, and is scheduled to return Saturday.
The Argentinian pope’s extraordinary popularity has helped to increase church attendance around the world, but has also fueled the growth of a personality cult that he has denounced as inappropriate.
“Portraying the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, it seems offensive,” Francis recently told Italian daily “Corriere della Sera.”
The pope’s first year in office has been characterized by an apparent determination to maintain the simple lifestyle he has had throughout his priesthood.
The pontiff lives in a three-room apartment rather than the papal palace. The golden cross and red cape of his predecessor have been left unworn and he is reported to regularly phone an 80-year-old widow whose son recently died.
“She is happy and I get to be a priest,” he said of those calls.
That attitude has helped to fuel his popularity around the world. If retweets are counted, it is likely that there are more Twitter users reading what he has to say than U.S. President Barack Obama.
Amid all his plaudits, the issue of who exactly the new pope is and what he stands for remains the subject of much discussion, and the controversies he inherited have not gone away.
Critics say he has done nothing to seriously address the issue of pedophilia among priests.
“He’s warm and popular but he ignores the church’s greatest and ongoing crisis – the cover-up of horrific clergy sex crimes,” David Clohessy, executive director of the U.S.-based SNAP network of survivors of clerical abuse, told AFP.
Francis rebuffed such criticism last month, insisting the church has been as transparent as any other institution in its handling of a problem that concerns all of society.