VATICAN CITY - One-hundred days after Francis became the first non-European pope since the eighth century, the main difference between him and his European predecessors has more to do with style than concrete action.
Francis made his humble and pastoral style known to the massive crowds in St. Peter's Square three months ago, when he refused much of the garb and traditions that come along with the job. Since then, he has celebrated public Masses almost daily, mingling with adoring crowds and shunning the sprawling papal apartments for a small and simple studio.
"Christianity is more than anything a style, and Francis has brought his own style as a pastor and a leader by example to this job," said Alberto Melloni, a professor of Christian history at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. "This is not superficial; it is essential."
It is a style that resonates with Catholics. Despite bad weather in recent weeks, crowds in St. Peter's Square during papal Masses have swelled since Francis became pope. Roman hospitals have reported that the name Francis - already a popular one in Italy - has become significantly more popular over the past three months.
"What you see when you see a humble man like Francis is what I think of as being Christ-like," said Fellipa Sandroni, 44, an administrator in a Catholic school, who was at the Vatican for the papal Mass Sunday. "He is inspiring."
Nanou Robez, 72, a French national who has lived in Rome for 50 years, said, "It is wonderful to finally have someone in the Vatican who seems to personify the lessons of the church."
After the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28, many Vatican experts listed changing the Vatican bureaucracy and confronting corruption and scandal within the Holy See as the top challenges for his successor as pontiff. Francis has done little in these areas.
Tackling the Roman Curia - the Vatican's main administrative bureaucracy - will probably wait until October, when Francis is likely to appoint a Vatican secretary of state and the eight members of the College of Bishops.
"There will be many changes in the coming months; there is plenty of time for that," says Paolo Rodari, a prominent Vatican expert with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica. "But what he is doing now is putting his stamp on the papacy, and that will have an impact when he takes on more temporal issues.
"This is not a question of power and influence," Rodari said. "It is about shedding light on the least important among us, about loving our neighbors, setting a certain example. This will create an authority that will make taking on certain difficult issues easier later on."
Refusing to live in the 12-room papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter's Square in favor of the modest St. Martha's guesthouse is probably the pope's most symbolic decision, some observers said. The apartments, which include a private library, a chapel and priceless artwork, had been the official residence for popes since the 17th century.
"I love the fact that Pope Francis said he didn't want to live amid all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional apartments," said Arnel Ramos, 39, a Filipino parish priest studying in Rome for a year. "I interpret it as a way to say he doesn't care too much about the way popes have done it in the past. He is going to do it his own way."
Francis' papacy is marked by many historical firsts. In addition to becoming the first-ever pope from the Western Hemisphere and the first non-European pope since Gregory III in 731, the Buenos Aires-born Francis is the first pontiff since Boniface VIII in 1294 to take up his post while his predecessor (in Boniface's case, Celestine V) is alive. (Gregory XII resigned in 1415, but he died before a successor was named). In fact, Benedict lives nearby, in a house on the Vatican grounds.
Is Francis' style as pope a rejection of the eight-year reign by the more distant and cerebral Benedict? Experts say no.
"Every pope is supposed to bring his own style to his post; he is not bound by his predecessor," said Melloni, the Christian history professor. "Of course, most of the time, this is not done with the predecessor living in a house in the garden. But Benedict vowed when he resigned that he would accept the path the Holy Spirit chose for him and the church, and this is that path."