Three years into his papacy, Roman Catholics and others will look for clues about what defines him, where he wants to steer the 2,000-year-old church and what his message is for the United States , which he refers to as his "young church."
Though he's a mysterious and elusive religious figure to some, his views are well documented. He regularly uses his homilies, writings and other platforms to convey his thoughts.
Here's a selection of the pontiff's own words, acting as life coach, relationship counselor, current events commentator and judge of morality, according to his own writings and recent Vatican news releases
ON BEING REAL:
"Day after day, we are, as it were, covered with dirt, with empty words, with prejudices, with watered-down and adulterated wisdom; multiple forms of semi-falsity or open falseness continually infiltrate our inner being. This clouds and contaminates our soul, it threatens us with an incapacity for truth and goodness."
"All society, and in particular the sectors associated with medical science, are duty bound to express the solidarity of love, and to safeguard and respect human life in every moment of its earthly development, especially when it is ill or in its terminal stages."
ON WHETHER THE CHURCH IS TOO STRICT:
ON ABORTION AND DIVORCE:
"They are grave sins which— in various ways and with due evaluation of subjective responsibilities— injure the dignity of the human person, involve a profound injustice in human and social relationships, and offend God himself, the guarantor of the marital bond and the architect of life. . . . The Church has the primary duty to approach these people with love and delicacy, with kindness and maternal concern, in order to announce the merciful closeness of God and Jesus Christ ."
"It may be seen that the 'noes' pronounced by the Church in her moral guidelines, and upon which public opinion sometimes unilaterally fixes its attention, are in fact so many 'yeses' to the dignity of human beings, their lives and their capacity to love."
ON ABSTAINING DURING LENT:
"It should also be a time to abstain from words and images, because we have need of a little silence. We need to create a space free from the constant bombardment of images . . . a silent space for ourselves, without images, in order to open our hearts to the true image, the true word."
ON IRAQ :
After the death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj last month: "Stop the massacres, stop the violence, stop the hatred in Iraq ! At the same time I make an appeal to the Iraqi people who for five years have been suffering the consequences of a war that has provoked the breakdown of civil and social life: Dear Iraqi people, raise your heads and yourselves, become the primary rebuilders of your national life! May reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and respect for civil co-existence among tribes and ethnic and religious groups be the solitary path to peace in God's name!"
ON LEBANON :
"Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of causes for concern, especially because of the unusual verbal violence, and of people who place their trust in the force of arms and the physical elimination of their adversaries."
ON CUBA :
"Some Christian communities are overwhelmed by difficulties due to scarcity of resources, indifference or even misgivings that can lead to discouragement. . . . Put your hope in Jesus Christ , our savior who does not disappoint and who fills your hearts with joy, giving meaning and fruitfulness to your life of faith."
ON HIS PREDECESSOR:
On the third anniversary of Pope John Paul II 's death: "It sufficed to watch him as he prayed. He literally immersed himself in God and, during those moments, it seemed as if everything else was foreign to him."
From the first of his two encyclicals, issued on Christmas 2005: "Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word 'love': we speak of love of country, love of one's profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbor and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison."
ON HOPE AND REDEMPTION:
From his second encyclical, issued Nov. 30, 2007 : "It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere."
ON TAKING EMOTIONAL RISKS:
From his Nov. 30 encyclical: "It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love."