More than 6.6 million people attended events with Pope Francis at the Vatican between his election in March and the end of 2013 – nearly three times the 2.3 million visitors for former Pope Benedict in all of 2012 – according to figures released Thursday.
The Vatican said the figures were based on the number of tickets issued for papal events for which they are required, such as general audiences, Masses and private audiences. They covered only events held at the Vatican starting from Francis's March 13 election.
They do not include his trips, either in Italy or to major global events such as World Youth Day in Brazil. The Vatican estimated that some 3.7 million people attended Francis' final World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro alone, although statisticians put the figure at about half that.
Francis is the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope.
The crowds at Francis's general audiences and Sunday addresses have often topped 100,000, forcing police to close off the boulevard leading to the Vatican to accommodate more people.
Tickets to audiences and Masses are issued for free by the Vatican's Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and usually distributed through parishes and Church institutions.
The Vatican reported that about 2.3 million people attended Vatican events in Benedict's first year as pope in 2005.
Benedict, citing health reasons, resigned on Feb. 28, 2013, becoming the first pope in 600 years to do so rather than ruling for life.
Francis, who last month was named Person of the Year by Time Magazine, has drawn people to the Vatican because of his outgoing, simple and friendly style. Benedict was far more reserved.
The first non-European pope in 1,300 years, Francis took over a church rocked by sex abuse and other scandals, and losing the faithful to other religions.
Reinvigorating the church, he has forsaken many of the trappings used by his predecessors. He gave up the spacious papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace for a small apartment in a guest house and is driven in a regular car instead of the papal limousine.
Francis has also been popular for his statements urging the church to be closer to the poor, and to be more merciful and less condemning.