Pope Francis nearly triples Vatican City crowds in 2013

Pope Francis waves as he delivers his first "Urbi et Orbi" message from the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square at the Vatican (25 Dec 2013) Pope Francis has developed a reputation for simplicity and humility

Pope Francis drew more than 6.6 million people to his audiences, Masses and other events in Vatican City during his first year in office, figures show.

The statistics cover the period from the Argentinean's election in March to the end of 2013, the Vatican said.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, attracted just 2.3 million people for the whole of 2012.

Pope Francis, named Person of the Year by Time magazine, is the Roman Catholic Church's first Latin American leader.

He is also the first Jesuit at the helm of the Church.

'Community of brothers'

The Vatican said the new figures were based on the number of tickets issued for papal events, as well as on estimates of crowds attending his weekly appearances at St Peter's Square.

The data was released a day after the pontiff gave his first New Year blessing, calling for the world to unite against violence as a "community of brothers".

Addressing pilgrims in St Peter's Square, Pope Francis departed from his prepared text to vent frustration at the level of conflict in the world.

Pope Francis

  • Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
  • Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
  • Studied in Argentina, Chile and Germany
  • Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
  • Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice
  • First Latin American and first Jesuit to become pope, the 266th to lead the Church
  • Said to be a football fan, supporting Buenos Aires team San Lorenzo de Almagro.

"What is happening in the heart of man?" he asked. "It's time to stop."

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires named himself Francis after a 12th-Century Italian saint who turned his back on an aristocratic lifestyle to work with the poor.

He has eschewed some of the more regal trappings of high office, made headlines by washing the feet of prisoners, and called for power to be devolved away from the Vatican.

He has also adopted a markedly less formal tone than previous popes, underlining his reputation for simplicity and humility.

Earlier this year, the pontiff raised eyebrows among conservative fractions when he said the Catholic Church was too focused on preaching about abortion, gay people and contraception, and needed to become more merciful.

He is expected to announce some major reforms in Church organisation for 2014.

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