The popularity of Pope Francis continues to grow within the Catholic Church in Ireland and in America.

A survey conducted by The Irish Catholic this week found that the overwhelming majority of dioceses reported huge increases in the numbers of massgoers over Christmas as the faithful returned.

Similarly, CNN recently reported that the new Pope is hugely popular in the United States.

This increase in congregations in Ireland has been credited to the people-friendly new pope, who has connected and re-engaged Catholic communities worldwide.

The trend in Ireland this Christmas was a more united family front, with large numbers attending church services across the country.

According to Fr Kieran O’Brien of St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney there were “big increases in numbers, especially at the Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve which was jam packed.”

“What we noticed here was the large number of families coming to the cathedral.
Many people returning home for the Christmas came with parents and grandparents, and you could see three and four generations visiting the crib, which was lovely to see,” he said.

In Ferns, Fr Richard Lawless of St Aidan’s Cathedral said “our numbers were very much up, and over the years we’ve noticed increasing figures”.

The parish printed 2,000 ‘Welcome Home for Christmas’ cards which were distributed by parishioners.

Fr Lawless said that “parishes across the diocese have been reporting rises.”

“It could well be a positive reaction to Pope Francis,” he said.

The 'Pope Francis Effect' is being felt across the world, with new and lapsed Catholics surging to the confession box 'by the hundreds or thousands,' according to the Italian Center for Studies of New Religions.

In Italy half the priests noted a marked rise in support for the church.

The Italian opinion poll, Opinioni, reported this week that more than four in five Italians have a 'positive' or 'extremely positive' opinion of the Pope.

The popularity of the 77-year-old Argentine-born pontiff has regularly made headlines since his appointment in 2013. Francis was picked by Time magazine as Person of the Year because he has come to be seen as the new voice of conscience for the Catholic Church.

The poll conducted by CNN confirmed that American Catholics also approved of the new direction Francis was taking the church in. Almost two-thirds of respondents agreed with the Pope regarding the amount of attention that should be paid to moral issues with the vast majority feeling that he is in touch with modern day America. Modern day Ireland too, it seems.