In fact, he even made it to Time Magazine's front page cover being Person of the Year. So, what is it about him that made him the popular people's choice?
I can only think of one word--humility. If you watch him, he does everything his predecessors did when in front of the crowd--waves at people, carries kids in his arms, gives flying kisses to the multitude, kisses people, tells them he loves them, delivers inspiring messages, and so forth. But he stops his pope mobile in the middle of the road during parades and gets out of it just to shake hands with people. And he takes time to see them eye-to-eye, even kisses the unkissable sick.
It's not the handshakes, eye-to-eye contact, or kissing itself that really caught the masses' imagination--not even just the compassion--but the show of humility. I haven't seen him in person, but most of the people interviewed on TV mentioned about the fact of his radiant humility. High as his position is in the world's biggest religion, he goes out of his way and takes all the trouble just to meet you in person.
I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I believe we have much to learn here. People today are tired of the big-boss mentality in ministry. Have you seen big-time evangelical ministers lately? I don't know if they have gathered 10 or 20 million-strong crowds before but have you ever seen them take time to go out of their way, go down from their glamorous stages, to meet people face-to-face? Well, from what I see on TV, the usual manner is to arrive in their posh cars (or helicopters?), go up the stage, remain up there till the program is ended.
Then they get out of the venue as fast as possible--often through back exits that ensure their non-contact with the people (they can't be bothered)--without going down the stage to meet ordinary folks in the crowd. But Pope Francis stopped the mobile he was in while it was running on the road and got out to meet with people--not just thousands of people but millions. He took time to get out.
A lot of evangelical ministers start a bit humble when their ministries are yet small--almost on the threshold of meek--but grow arrogant and big-headed once their ministries manage to increase a bit in numbers. What more once they get mega churches.
Genuine humility is so rare nowadays. Preachers talk about it, deliver great messages on it, but very few (if any) have the humility of Jesus Christ who "made himself nothing," said Paul, and embraced the cross more as he grew popular with the people, attracting throngs of them. You don't see that today.
You'd find Jesus always amid the crowd. That's the reason why the woman with blood issue for 12 years was able to crawl behind him and touch his garment. If Jesus had the big boss mentality, no one could sneak behind him like that. You wouldn't have found him in the crowd. In one episode, the bible says the crowds were all just touching him to take some healing power, and all who touched him were healed.
Now, where is that down-to-earth humility in evangelical churches today? Why do most preachers act like politicians--as soon as they give the sermon and the campaign is ended, they leave. Well, they may sometimes shake hands with ordinary folks and carry some kids in their arms along the way--as long there are cameras taking shots of them--but you see it very seldom. You see them being led out like VIPs, surrounded by bodyguards, straight into their cars and out of there fast.
I'm not militating for grassroots humility to compete with the pope. I'm not really saying that big-time born-again preachers should go down the stage and shake hands with the multitudes all the time. But humility that rubs elbows with the masses--especially when there is no camera around--is what can set us apart from worldly leaders, like politicians and the rich who are ever afraid of the masses in the streets and won't lift up a hand to meet them if there are no live cams around.
By the way, watch out for the article I'm gong to do on Choy's Cut about how cams are powerful devices, able to make people become nice and kind and do wonderful acts of compassion that folks who know them personally never thought possible. But watch what people do and how they behave when there are no live cams around.