"He is a Jesuit, but he's very Franciscan in his attitude," said the Rev. Murray Bodo, author of nearly two dozen books on Franciscan spirituality. "Every opportunity that he has he'll call attention to inequality in the economy, to the injustice in economic systems."
But he is still very much a Jesuit, with the Society of Jesus' trademark missionary zeal and collaborative but authoritarian style of governance.
When Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, he insisted he would remain "hidden from the world" in prayer. But Francis has slowly coaxed him out of retirement and given him an increasingly public role in the church, believing that he shouldn't be packed away in a museum like a "statue."
Benedict recently joined Francis for the elevation of 19 new cardinals, was interviewed for an upcoming book on Pope John Paul II and took time to write to an Italian journalist insisting he hadn't been pressured to resign. He'll likely have a cameo at John Paul's April 27 canonization.
With Benedict increasingly back in the spotlight, comparisons to his more crowd-pleasing successor will likely come to the fore, for better or worse.
"To put it very simply, to understand Benedict, you've got to read what he writes," said Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster. "To understand Francis, you have to look at what he does."
Francis has a high-profile trip to the Holy Land in May and a visit to South Korea in August where he will likely make an impassioned plea for peace on the divided peninsula.
In between, he must forge ahead with the unsettling reforms of the Vatican bureaucracy, where he has created a new finance secretariat to parallel the secretariat of state and where an overhaul of the scandal-marred Vatican bank looms large.
October will see the synod on the family. Surveys sent to ordinary Catholics around the world show the vast majority reject church teaching on contraception, divorce and homosexuality.
With expectations so high, it seems almost fitting that Francis marked the anniversary of his historic election on a weeklong silent retreat away from the Vatican.
But a friend, Claudio Epelman, an Argentine Jew who joined Francis for Christmas dinner for seven years while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, said Francis was up to the task.
"He will surprise us. Don't ask me how because I don't know," Edelman said. "But he will go even farther than the expectations."
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
- Bakery ordered to pay $135,000 for mental,...
- Fans cheer as Princess Charlotte christened...
- Idaho's gay marriage ban remains in state...
- Lloyd hat trick leads United States over...
- Ten Commandments decision prompts...
- Brave dachshund Leo honored with monument in...
- Polygamous Montana trio applies for wedding...
- Greeks reject demands for more austerity in...
- Polygamous Montana trio applies for... 134
- Episcopal Church becomes third... 54
- Religious schools and universities on... 49
- Bakery ordered to pay $135,000 for... 45
- Dan Liljenquist: Time to relegate the... 27
- Obama's counterterrorism policy facing... 22
- Did the news media show bias in its... 21
- Emails show top administration... 17