(THE GUARDIAN) — Hundreds of thousands of Italian Catholics have flocked back to church since the election of the pope, according to a study published on Mondaythat credits the “Francis effect” for the boost in congregations.

Researcher Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist and head of Italy’s Centre for the Study of New Religions (Cesnur), found that 51% of 250 priests he interviewed reported a significant rise in church attendance since the election of the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in March.

“If we project those results nationally, and if only half the parishes and communities in Italy have been touched by the Francis effect, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are returning,” he said.

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