But social justice was at the core of Pope Francis's faith, insists Argentine parish priest Father José Maria "Pepe" di Paola, who was assigned by Pope Francis to work in the Buenos Aires slums in 1997. The priest says that the future pope, who took phone calls at any time of the night, has never been "a prince of the church.... In Argentina, he is seen as the pope of the slums" who put the welfare of the poor first. That connection to the poor seems evident, notes Gianfranco Carranza, a high school student from the largest Buenos Aires slum, Villa 21-24. When the teen traveled to the Vatican in April with 43 other youths to receive their First Communion from Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, he was surprised when the pope said to him: "You're the boy from Villa 21-24."
"I couldn't believe he recognized me," says young Gianfranco.
A man of rattletrap cars and plain cassocks
The pope's choice of the name Francis – from St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th-century patron saint of animals and ecology venerated by Catholics for his humility and simplicity – might have been a sign of continuity for his Argentine admirers. But the name's implicit rejection of church ostentation was a surprise to many appreciative Catholics around the world, like Croatian Vlado Viskovic, who came to Assisi Oct. 4 during the pope's visit to his namesake's tomb.
Mr. Viskovic sat for a long time in the pews of San Damiano, the simple, dimly lit church with fresco walls that St. Francis rebuilt in 1205. "I wanted my son to come here, to this place that Francis built with his hands," said Viskovic, who named that son Franjo, after St. Francis.
"It's the most beautiful church I have ever seen," said Franjo, now 19.
The two traced the pope's footsteps all day in the town that overlooks the rolling hills of Umbria, dotted with olive groves and cypress trees. "He is a pope for the people, for the jailed, for the modest, all people. He is a pope for us," said Viskovic.