Essay Writing Samples

A Comparative Essay: How Pope Francis Differs from His Predecessors

Pope Francis is one of the world’s most unique and popular figures. This is a sample essay from Ultius that discusses Pope Francis and some of his core teachings and ideals.


Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church was elected into his position in March of 2013. His induction might be the most important event to happen to the catholic church since the Reformation. There are several things that distinguish him from his predecessors. To start, he is the first pope to come from the Americas and the first South American pope that the Vatican has ever had (Rainone). In fact, before Pope Francis, there had not been a non-European pope in twelve hundred years. He is also the first Jesuit pope and the first to choose St. Francis of Assisi as their namesake. Pope Francis has established himself as different from those before him almost immediately. Upon being elected as Pope, rather than blessing the people in St. Peter’s Square, he asked them to bless him instead. Much like St. Francis, the pope has abandoned wealth and embraced a life of simplicity. Pope Francis also makes himself more accessible than the popes before him and has views that noticeably differ from those of his predecessors.

Understated Lifestyle

Pope Francis is known for his tendency towards simplicity and avoidance of extravagance, which is a turn from the way previous Popes have lived. In the past, one pope died after eating too much melon and another charged people to forgive their sins in order to buy things like a pet elephant (Ellwood). Just over a decade ago, the Vatican even opened a tax-free luxury goods store that is three stories tall. The pope also presides over coffers worth an estimated eight billion dollars. Pope Benedict was nicknamed the “Prada Pope” and even hired a private perfume maker to make him a signature scent exclusively for his own use. Francis represents the opportunity of the office of the pope to return to grace after the previous pope caused its fall.

Humble before all, not just God

Pope Francis, however, seems to have no interest in such a lifestyle whatsoever. In 2013, he was voted Esquire’s Best Dressed Man, not because of his bold wardrobe choices, but for his humble fashion sense. He rejects the ornate garments and lavish jewelry for the ring he chose upon being elected pope is made of silver rather than the traditional gold. In addition, the pectoral cross he wears is the small, simple iron one he wore as a cardinal in Argentina. In the past, popes have worn large crosses, sometimes set with precious stones. Pope Francis is just as humble in his choice of dress. Rather than the traditional papal mozzetta cape and the shoulder length red cape, he chooses a short, plain white cape that matches his robes (Rainone). His very appearance is proof of his dedication to living up to his namesake and makes it instantly clear that he is different from his predecessors. Pope Benedict revived centuries-dormant traditions of brightly colored robes and hats, including a lime green outfit that was much-discussed. He even tasked new cardinals with buying lavish clothes, from the traditional outfitter of clergymen, Gamarelli, which ended up costing over five thousand dollars per person (Ellwood).

Living with and as one of the people

Pope Francis is humble in more than what he wears, though. Traditionally, the pope lives in very comfortable apartments in the grand Apostolic Palace. Instead, he lives in The Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse, in much simpler conditions. Francis upholds the catholic vow of poverty. This makes him the first pope to not live in the papal apartments in over a century (Rainone). Pope Francis takes his meals in the common dining room with the other residents rather than in the private dining room in the papal apartments. In the main chapel of the residence, he attends 7 a.m. Mass with the employees who work at the Vatican.

The pope on the go

Rather than driving around in a bulletproof popemobile, which was most recently a Mercedes limousine, he prefers an open vehicle with only a shield in the front. In 1981, after the attempted assassination of John Paul II, the first bulletproof popemobile was presented. But Francis feels that the bulletproof vehicle is like a “sardine can,” cutting him off from the people who come to greet him. During a 2014 interview, Francis said,

“It’s true that anything could happen. But let’s face it; at my age, I don’t have much to lose” (Rainone).

He has been known to use a number of different cars during his visits, including Mercedes, Jeep, Land Rover, and Toyota. When in the United States, he used a Jeep Wrangler (Rainone). He even took a walk through the Vatican’s parking facilities to examine the vehicle choices made by his staff and admonished them to make more modest choices, saying,

“A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world” (Ellwood).

When driving around Rome, he drives a 1984 Renault with more than two hundred thousand miles on it.

A pope with no want of luxury

Pope Francis’ humble style differs vastly from the previous pope, Benedict. While the pope emeritus proudly flourished his iPod Nano, Pope Francis donated his almost new iPad to a Uruguayan high school so they could auction it off for desperately needed funds, which ended up earning the school over thirty thousand dollars (Ellwood). Generally, when a new pope is elected, the interior design team in the Vatican is often frantic to renovate the living quarters to the liking of the newcomer. When Benedict was elected as pope, he requested a new library, a personal dental office, and a special room for his piano. Francis did not even use the decorators at all. A ten-minute helicopter ride from the Vatican is the palace of Castel Gandolfo, which has been the papal weekend home since the seventeenth century. John Paul II installed a swimming pool and spent six of his twenty-seven years as pope there, while Benedict would stay on the 140 acre-estate for months at a time. Francis, however, opened the palace to the public, allowing ticketed tours for the first time, and has recently included access to the galleries inside.

“The people’s pope”

Pope Francis has been dubbed the People’s Pope and is much more accessible to the people than his predecessors before him. He puts this into practice in his everyday work. Instead of having his secretaries do it on his behalf, he personally writes his own letters and makes his own phone calls. He is untraditionally hands-on in his papal responsibilities. Previous popes did not attend Mass in a public chapel. Rather, they worshipped in their own private chapel and invited only wealthy and influential people to attend. In contrast, Francis goes to daily Mass in a public chapel with the Vatican’s custodians, security guards, and receptionists. Additionally, he has also invited the homeless people of Rome to join him for his birthday breakfast. This is one of many initiatives he has been enacting in an attempt to help the poor, which he believes is one of the church’s main duties. He believes that the poor have a sacred right to jobs, housing, and land and called the unrestrained pursuit of wealth “the dung of the devil” (Stack). He is also incredibly hands-on in his work with the poor; chief alms-giver, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, reported that he tells the Pope that he and the Swiss Guard are going out into the slums at night to help people, Francis frequently insists on accompanying them. He is even personable with the people on a lighter level as well. A couple, who work as volunteers for a charity that provides clown performances to sick children, were wearing clown noses on their wedding day in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis joined them and donned a red nose of his own.

Different ideas

From abortion to divorce, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is out to do away with the negative connotations attached to religion and instead refocus the church towards true acceptance and humility. On Holy Thursday, wherein liturgical rules dictate that only men can have their feet washed by the pope, Francis washes the feet of prisoners, women, and Muslims alike.

  • His first Holy Thursday, in 2013, Pope Francis gave an evening Mass at a prison for young offenders before washing the feet of ten men and two women prisoners of different faiths and nationalities (Glatz).
  • The following Holy Thursday, the pope broke tradition again. This time, he visited a home for the elderly and disabled and washed the feet of twelve disabled people of varying ages, ethnicities, and dominations, including a sixteen-year-old boy who was paralyzed in a diving accident and two patients with cerebral palsy (Gallagher).
  • In 2015, he visited a prison and washed the feet of twelve prisoners, men and women alike.
  • In 2016, he issued a decree to revise the rules for the traditional ritual in an effort to no longer limit the rite to men, but to expend it to women as well.

Francis wrote that this is:

“an attempt to improve the method of implementation, to express the full meaning of the gesture performed by Jesus at the Last Supper, his gift of himself ‘to the end’ for the salvation of the world, his boundless charity” (San Martin).

Pope Francis spent that most recent Holy Thursday keeping with his revolutionary pastoral style. Hundreds of refugees gathered to watch the Pope as he entered the courtyard of the Centre for Asylum Seekers near Rome, where he had already sent gifts for the children staying there; two hundred chocolate Easter eggs, a wooden chessboard, and a number of autographed sports memorabilia (Esteves). After giving the Holy Thursday Mass, Francis washed the feet of twelve refugees, including Muslims, Hindus, and Copts.

A pope who is unafraid to tackle the issues

Historically, previous popes have remained conservative in their views of things like abortion, gay marriage, and divorce, but Pope Francis has taken on these sensitive issues with a lighter hand. Though he still opposes gay marriage, he insists that Catholics show homosexuals love and warmth rather than judgement. When asked about his feelings in regards to gay people, he famously responded,

“Who am I to judge?” (Stack).

Like with gay marriage, he maintains the church’s traditional stance against abortion, but has criticized what he calls the church’s obsession with issues like abortion and homosexuality and has declared that priests should absolve women who confess to “the sin of abortion.” In terms of divorce, Pope Francis has encouraged a more merciful approach towards divorced Catholics and sparked controversy by debating whether they should be allowed to receive communion (Stack). His views on women differ from his predecessors, as well. Benedict launched two widely-criticized investigations into American nuns after accusing female religious orders in the United States of being sources of secularism and feminism. Francis quickly ended both of them, praising the women for their work with the poor instead (Stack).


There can be no question that Pope Francis differs greatly from his predecessors. His everyday actions demonstrate his tendency towards a humble lifestyle and he genuinely rejects extravagance and waste. Francis’ inclination towards financial modesty is in stark contrast from some of those before him and is constantly apparent. His clothes, living quarters, vehicle, jewelry, and overall lifestyle are much more simplistic than those before him. He does his own work, is incredibly hands-on, and rarely has someone else make a call, write a letter, or make an appearance in his place. Pope Francis is also more personable and accessible to the people than his predecessors have been and he does all his personal and work correspondences himself. He also differs from previous popes in his ideals and standing on a number of sensitive and hotly contested issues. His recent signing of the ecumenical declaration mending ties with the Russian Orthodox church is a prime example of his tolerance and belief in humanity. He preaches acceptance and love above all else – a refreshing change of pace. Just three years into his papacy, Pope Francis’ doctrine of understanding and humility makes him clearly stand out among any popes before him.

Works Cited

Ellwood, Mark. “How Un-Luxurious is Pope Francis, Compared to His Predecessors?” Bloomberg. Bloomberg, L.P., 24 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 May 2016.

Esteves, Junno Arocho. “Pope Francis washes feet of refugees on Holy Thursday.” Catholic Herald. Catholic Herald, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 May 2016. .

Gallagher, Della. “Pope Francis washes the feet of disabled people as part of Easter celebrations.” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 May 2016. .

Glatz, Carol, “Pope washes young offenders’ feet at Holy Thursday Mass.” Catholic Herald. Catholic Herald, 2013 Mar. 28. Web. 14 May 2016. .

Rainone, Cathy. “Refocusing the Church: What Makes Pope Francis Different From His Predecessors.” NBC New York. NBCUniversal Media, LLC. 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 May 2016. .

San Martin, Ines. “Francis changes the rules: Women can have their feet washed on Holy Thursday.” CRUX. Crux Catholic Media Inc., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 May 2016. .

Slack, Liam. “Pope Francis on Abortion and Other Issues.” NY Times. New York Times, 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 May 2016.>.

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