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Pope Francis marks first anniversary of election away from world spotlight

One year ago today, millions of Catholics in St. Peter's Square and around the world waited anxiously to find out who would succeed Pope Benedict as the leader of the Church. After five conclave votes, Jorge Mario Bergolio went from being a cardinal to Pope Francis I: the 266th Pope in history, the first from the Americas, and the first non-European pontiff in over 1200 years.

 Newly elected Pope Francis waves to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

That election sparked major buzz on social media as the wait wore on and the conclave's decision was announced. Twitter estimates that it saw about seven million tweets from people around the world about the election. After Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran officially announced Bergolio as the new Pope, around 130,000 reaction tweets per minute went flying, including from @Pontifex, which heralded the news with "HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM" (we have Pope Francis).

Pope Francis continues to tweet fairly regularly from the @Pontifex account and marked his one-year anniversary with a simple message: "Please pray for me."

The Pope is spending the anniversary in a low-key manner, as he left this past Sunday for a spiritual retreat in the Castelli Romani, an area comprised of small municipalities in the outskirts of Rome. The retreat is an annual event among senior Vatican officials that takes place during the pre-Easter period of Lent. It is said to involve much prayer and meditation.

A year later, Francis, who also has a Time Person of the Year title under his belt, remains a very popular Pope overall. In fact, a new poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal indicates that though there was an increase in people who say religion is "not that important" in their lives, the Pope's influence over the last year has helped many Catholics strengthen their faith.

The poll on religion has been conducted every year since 1997 and the 2014 edition showed that 21 percent of those surveyed responded with the "not that important" option in terms of how religion factors into their lives, the highest percentage ever recorded. However, 54 percent of all respondents said it is "very important" or the most important aspect of their lives.

Among Catholics, the views on Pope Francis were quite favorable. 55 percent of Catholics polled say they have either a "somewhat positive" (22 percent) or "very positive" (33 percent) outlook on the pontiff. That figure also bodes well in comparison with predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who earned a positive rating from 30 percent of respondents. For Francis, 25 percent were neutral and seven percent responded negatively.

At the conclusion of Lent, he will lead the Church during his second Easter as Pope on April 20. A week later, Francis will oversee the canonization Mass of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, which The National Catholic Register reports is expected to draw nearly 5 million pilgrims.

In May, he will travel to the Holy Land, marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's visit there and historic meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras I, which was called a "key moment in Catholic and Orthodox Christian relations."

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