​The Francis Effect

Pope Francis and the "Francis Effect" 07:03

As this week's cover of People magazine makes clear, the Pope is the man of the moment. Call it The Francis Effect. Our Cover Story is from Martha Teichner:

Passersby don't even notice the figure on the bench in front of Catholic Charities in Washington, the one by the banner announcing that Pope Francis is coming. If they did, "They might think it's a real homeless person," said Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. He has named the work "Homeless Jesus."

"Only after they come very close up will they notice the wounds here, and that is the way they can identify it as being Christ," he said. "So it's a sculpture that's almost like theater."

Like seeing what Pope Francis stands for being acted out.

"I've sat here myself and contemplated life," a homeless man said. "That's me -- and Jesus laying here is a semblance of all the God that we have within us."

Right here, this Thursday, Francis himself will be meeting with the homeless, delivering his own show-and-tell about what he believes the Catholic Church should be.

"Before he became pope, if you asked the person on the street, 'What's the Catholic Church?' people would say, 'They're against abortion, they're against gay marriage, they're against birth control," said Father Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter.

"Now you go out and you ask people, 'What do you think Pope Francis is all about?' 'Oh, he's the guy who really cares about the poor. He's concerned about the environment. He wants to preach the love and the compassion of God towards people.'"

From the instant the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio walked out on that balcony, on March 13, 2013, he began signaling: No more business as usual, starting with his choice to be the first-ever Pope Francis, taking the name of a saint who lived in poverty.

"The feeling in the square was just very joyful -- it was just electric," said Christiana Gondreau. She and Paul Gondreau, from Johnston, Rhode Island, were in St. Peter's Square that night, and again on Easter Sunday, with their children, including Dominic, who has cerebral palsy.

"During the course of the mass, there was an usher who had taken notice of Dominic and had just got the idea in his head: That boy is going to meet the pope -- I'm going to get you situated on the route that the popemobile is going to take."

And then: "My son Lucas, says, 'It's Dominic!' I looked up at the Jumbotron and I just grabbed my son Lucas and we both couldn't believe it."

"He actually took his arm and put it around the pope's neck," said Christiana.

"I was moved to tears," said Paul. "I can count on my two hands the number of times that's happened in the course of his lifetime."

"It felt for me, as a mother, that it was a little kiss directly from God," said Christiana. "Just, 'I know your son is in this crowd, I love him,' and He gave him a kiss. That's what it felt like."

Will Pope Francis change church's stance on s... 01:01

On his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis is likely to get a rock-star welcome and then some. The vast majority of American Catholics approve of the direction he's leading their church, according to a CBS News poll out this morning.

Just this month, he announced that priests can absolve women who've had abortions, and a dramatic simplification of marriage annulment.

But some issues remain deeply troubling to American Catholics. According to our same CBS News poll, fewer than half (48 percent) approve of the way he's handling the clergy sex abuse scandal, although compared to his predecessor, Pope Benedict (19 percent), that's a huge improvement.

"I think there are a lot of things that are from an older generation that just don't make sense to me," said Maggie Place. "And some of the things that are a bit antiquated or, honestly, unfair, I choose to ignore, if you will."

At 29, Place is the personification of many young American Catholics -- conflicted.