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Thanks To Pope Francis, Explosion Of Interest In Catholicism Hits Long Island

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Some are calling it the "Francis effect" -- a boom in Sunday mass attendance and even in Catholic school enrollment.

All the credit is going to the charismatic new pope, CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

Students on Long Island watched live as Rome selected and introduced the new pope to the world last spring. Since then, Pope Francis has lit a spark.

"The pope's main message is to be with the people, as a church. I can't think of a better way to be with young people than to be in a school," said Brother Kenneth Hoagland, principal of Kellenberg High School.

Long Island Catholic high school enrollment is soaring due to academic rigor, tradition, rules, modest tuition and, say the students, Pope Francis himself.

"It is just phenomenal to see that kind of energy coming out of young people, not only for the pope, but for our faith in general," Kellenberg senior Peter Herzog said.

At Kellenberg and at nearby Chaminade High School, hundreds of applicants have been turned away. There is growing popularity to educate the heart and mind, led by Pope Francis' clear messages of inclusion, acceptance, outreach and empathy.

"He definitely inspires me and a lot of girls in my grade to get out there and participate in anything we can do to help," Kellenberg senior Christina DiMasso said.

Long Island has 2.8 million residents. According to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, 1.7 million are baptized Catholic, but thousands have fallen away from their faith.

Can this pope with "the common touch" bring them back?

"I think he's doing a good job. He is just not my cup of tea at this time," said Rockville Centre resident Gilberto Mendoza.

"I think he's a liberal pope. I'm not sort of for everything that he is for," added resident Kirby Freeman.

But many others told McLogan they feel a positive resurgence.

"I believe in change. And I do think the kids today do want change," said crossing guard Donald Cacchioli.

Some call it "the Pope Francis effect."

"The pope is out there. He's very well liked. We all like him," Rockville Centre resident Sebastian Aloi said.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, agrees.

"I can't walk down the streets of our beloved New York without people coming up to me and saying 'Hey, thanks for Pope Francis. You guys did a good job. We love him,'" he said on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday. "I hear from our parish priests, who are always on the front line, they're telling me the crowds at Sunday mass are up, the confession lines are longer, inquiries about the Catholic faith are more abundant and even the collections are going up."

The pope recently sent a survey to the world's one billion Catholics asking for their opinions on many issues including same-sex marriage, contraception and divorce.

Dolan said while the church doctrine is clear on these issues, the pope was asking his followers how the church can be "better."

Pope Francis has also worked wonders in the sphere of business, McLogan reported. Vendors of papal-themed souvenirs report a steady increase in sales both here and abroad.

In Italy, the name Francesco leapfrogged to No. 1 on the list of the most popular baby names.

According to the 14th annual survey by the Global Language Monitor, which tracks top web talkers, Francis is the most talked about person in the world.

The pontiff outranks Obamacare, Edward Snowden and Kate Middleton in online chatter.

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