WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – A new study has found that “hundreds of thousands” of Italians have returned to the practice of Catholicism because of the new pope.

“It’s a massive, and even spectacular result,” Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne explained to the National Catholic Reporter.

Introvigne conducted a national survey one month after the March 13 election of Pope Francis where he interviewed pastors throughout the country who reported significant increases in turnout for Mass and demand for confession.  He repeated the same survey six months later to determine if those results were attributable to what he called “religious effervescence”, or if they seemed to represent something more lasting.

In the sample of 250 diocesan clergy and religious priests throughout the country, Introvigne found that 50.8 percent still reported above-normal Mass attendance and requests for the sacrament of reconciliation.

“The relevant point,” he wrote in his new book called II segreto di Papa Francesco, “is that at a distance of six months from the first survey and seven months from the beginning of the pontificate, the phenomenon of the ‘Francis effect’ gives no sign of reflux, but instead is consolidating itself.”

He offers an estimate of the number of those enticed by Pope Francis to become active practicers of the faith.

“Since we’re dealing with half of the parishes and church communities on a national scale,” he wrote in his book, “we have to be talking about hundreds of thousands of people in Italy that have come closer to the church by welcoming the invitations of Pope Francis.”

“This ‘Francis effect is not disappearing with the passage of time, but enduring,” he stated.