EPA lead epa04000679 Pope Francis kisses a baby Jesus statue as he leads the midndight Christmas Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican late 24 December 2013. EPA/ETTORE FERRARI Image Credit: EPA

Dubai: Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve midnight mass at the St Peter’s basilica. His message, consistent with the theme of his papacy, humility and compassion.

He said: “If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.” Thousands attended the mass.

Al Jazeera America reported that just before Christmas, ‘the pontiff sent out 2,000 envelopes containing subway and telephone cards to people living in surrounding areas to ensure that they celebrate the holiday with their families, even from afar’.

Nine months into his papal regime, it looks like the Catholic Church is finally returning to what Christ preached 2,000 years ago.

Labelled ‘The People’s Pope’, he is turning the sceptics around and being lauded by the secular press. Time magazine voted him as ‘Person of the Year’.

News reports talk about the ‘Francis effect’ in churches across the globe, as lapsed practitioners of the faith return in hope of a man modernising the 1st century institution.

He is working to reduce corruption in the church, especially in the Roman Curia, increasing transparency in Vatican finances and attempting to deal with the plague of sexual crimes that have ravaged the Holy See over the past decade. Earlier this month, he set up a review body to look into the issue of abuse by priests.

We live in a time of doubt. So, it is but natural to question this new ‘religious rockstar’ with more than 3,427,444 followers on his Twitter verified account @Pontifex.

He tweets regularly with messages such as: “Pope Francis‏@Pontifex19 Dec Let us pray that God grant us the grace of knowing a world where no one dies of hunger.”

The papal leaders before him were qualified theologians who seemed to be restricted by the scripture of expression.

Pope Francis, in turn, has worked as a nightclub bouncer, janitor and teacher. He is a man who has cannily employed his new position as absolute head of the Catholic Church and technology to reach out to people from Manila to Mumbai.

He wants change, he wants transformation and he wants it to be real. In an interview with a Jesuit magazine published in September, he provided insight into his vision for the church “as a field hospital” for the helpless, broken, lonely and poor.

He started by paying his hotel bill once the papacy was announced, and the taking on of a new name. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose to take the name of St Francis of Assisi, a wealthy silk merchant who renounced everything to become the patron saint of the poor. This was the first time a Pope had done so.

Earlier this year, on the day before Good Friday, as per ritual Francis washed the feet of the faithful, only this time it included a Serbian Muslim woman. The message of service was sent, much to the irritation of church traditionalists.

Does this mean he is open to female priests, abortion, divorce and gay marriage? The answer is a resounding no. His core message is the same as that of the Church he heads. However, he does want it to be open. On his July visit to Brazil, he told the media: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

He elaborated in an apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel. He writes: “…the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.”