Italian Catholic churches have the Pope to thank for a rise in attendance, according to a study published Monday that calls his influence the “Francis effect.”
Researcher Massimo Introvigne, head of Italy’s Center for the Study of New Religions, found that 51 percent of 250 priests that he interviewed reported a significant rise in attendance at their churches since Pope Francis was elected in March.
“If we project those results nationally, and if only half the parishes and communities in Italy have been touched by the Francis effect, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are returning [to the church],” Introvigne told the Guardian. In a smaller survey of 22 British cathedrals, there was also a reported “Francis effect,” with 65% of the respondents saying they had noticed a rise in attendance.
According to two of Italy’s most senior clerics, Francis is having the biggest impact on Catholics that have long steered clear of the church. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the archbishop of Florence, said, “So many are returning to the sacraments, in some cases after decades.”
Some theorize that Francis’ popularity stems from his embrace of humbleness. Pope Francis is known for refusing the luxurious trappings of the papacy and advocating a simpler Church.