Pope Francis will celebrate his fourth anniversary of his pontificate on Monday. The National Catholic Reporter takes a look at his "very long game" in shifting Church culture.
In January, the Vatican office that oversees priests, sisters and brothers in global religious orders had a plenary session. Seven women attended as representatives of the world's women religious.
That fact may not seem significant for those outside the Vatican, but it was the first time in decades that women had been present at such a meeting, the result of a direct request to Pope Francis.
"We were invited and we could speak," said Sr Carmen Sammut of the Rome-based group of women religious called the International Union of Superiors General. "That was a real structural change."
Four years into this pontificate, many of the changes taking place at the upper echelons of the Church echo the sisters' experience: Something that at first glance could appear minor takes on a wider meaning. Transformations build slowly as a culture shifts.
As Francis enters his fifth year, some ask just what this pope, who famously said he had come "from the ends of the Earth" for the job, has achieved.
Some of Francis's closest episcopal collaborators said in recent NCR interviews that the Pope is playing a very long game, trying to shift the Church's vision of its mission and its stance toward the world.
Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley said the Pope has been a "blessing for our church and our world".
"I know there's been some controversies of late, but the Holy Father's teaching and example are a great source of encouragement to our people," said Cardinal O'Malley. "He has changed the conversation about the Church in our country, and we are very grateful for that."
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said the Pope is calling for a recognition that because the wider culture is no longer Christian, let alone Catholic, the Church must change its demeanour.
"This is a very different culture than even 25 years ago," said Cardinal Wuerl. "This is the pontificate that has said definitively, 'Let's look and speak and act more like that early Christian community,'" he said. "There's no turning back."
Francis waves after leading the Angelus overlooking St Peter’s Square in February. (CNS/Reuters)