From selfie to Rolling Stone, a year of the pope in pop culture

Pope Francis: He really is just like us. From his down-to-earth first jobs (he once served as a bouncer in a nightclub), to his accidental cursing, to the way he drives an old used car, to admitting he, too, suffers from human weaknesses (he snagged a rosary from a dead priest!), the pope keeps on surprising the world with just how relatable he is.

On Thursday, the pop culture darling celebrates his one-year anniversary of becoming the first Jesuit pontiff of the Catholic Church. The 77-year-old Argentinian has gained unimaginable worldwide popularity since moving to the Vatican following the surprise abdication of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, and was already proclaimed Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and graced the cover of “Rolling Stone.” 

His consistent messages of acceptance and personal examples of humility have been embraced by much of the public. It’s a status he addressed recently in his typical pragmatic way. “To paint the pope as some sort of Superman, a star, is offensive," Francis said. “The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends as everyone else. A normal person.”

Yet, the more humble Pope Francis appears, the larger his popularity as pontiff grows. Here are our favorite moments from the past year as he easily worked his way into popular culture:

He rocks (and rolls.) Pope Francis cemented his rock-star status last month by making the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which also featured an 8,000-word profile on him. The cover came on the heels of Francis being named TIME’s “Person of the Year” for 2013. That iconic title is bestowed by TIME editors on the individual they see as having had the most impact on the world and the news over the past year.

He openly discusses his faults. Earlier this month, the pope revealed he succumbed to “that thief in all of us” when he stole the rosary cross from the coffin of an elderly priest he admired. He made the revelation to Roman priests during an informal chat about the need to be merciful to their flocks. The pope said when he took the cross, he asked the late priest, “Give me half your mercy.” Francis said he wears the relic to this day in a fabric pouch under his cassock.

He ditches the regal frills enjoyed by his predecessors. When he first became pontiff, for example, Pope Francis chose to live in a Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal palace. He also drives a donated used car, a 1984 manual transmission Renault, instead of using the traditional papal Mercedes to zip around Vatican grounds.

The pope routinely mingles with Vatican visitors. He also willingly poses for their pictures, including the now-famous selfie taken by teens visiting Rome as part of a pilgrimage. 

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‘The people’s Pope’ not afraid of clowning around

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‘The people’s Pope’ not afraid of clowning around

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The pope also clowned around — literally — with a newly married couple, donning a red nose to congratulate newlyweds who volunteer with a clown therapy charity.

He breaks with tradition. Pope Francis raised eyebrows when he washed and kissed the feet of two women in the annual Holy Thursday ritual, which represents the final act of humility of Jesus, who washed the feet of his 12 male disciples before his crucifixion. The women were among the dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome.

He knows when to veer off script. In a religion known for following strict rituals, Pope Francis showed his natural improvisational skills when a boy wandered on stage during a homily he delivered at the Vatican. 

The child, who had wandered away from a nearby group of children, at one point hugged the pope, who responded with smiles and even a pat on the head. The pope continued his remarks while the boy hung around, at one point even climbing into the papal white chair.

TODAY.com contributing writer Eun Kyung Kim is based in Washington. Follow her on Google+ or on Twitter.

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