On Wednesday Time magazine proclaimed Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, saying that only being in office for nine months the Catholic Church’s new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way.
This is the third time the magazine has chosen a pope as its Person of the Year. Time gave that honor to Pope John Paul II in 1994 and to Pope John XXIII in 1963.
“[W]hat makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all,” Howard Chua-Eoan and Elizabeth Dias write in the cover story. “In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Argentine Cardinal, was elected in March, being the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since taking over at the Vatican, he has urged the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with “small-minded rules” and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception.
In September, Francis gave a groundbreaking and frank interview, in which he said the Vatican must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful.
And in July, Francis told reporters he was not in a position to judge homosexuals who are of good will and in search of God, marking a break from his predecessor, Benedict, who said homosexuality was an intrinsic disorder, says Reuters.
“He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way,” said Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor.
Actually, for Vatican the given honor didn’t come up as a surprise, because of all the resonance that Francis has had, but it nevertheless said the choice represents a “positive” recognition of spiritual values in the international media.
“The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. “But if the choice of Person of Year helps spread the message of the Gospel — a message of God’s love for everyone — he will certainly be happy about that.”
Time said the final selection was made by its editors, who had considered suggestions from the magazine’s more than 2 million Twitter followers.
However, the Time’s choice over the widely popular Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for 2013, faced criticism from many who thought that Edward Snowden deserved the top prize more. Besides Snowden, Time had narrowed its finalists down to gay rights activist Edith Windsor, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Time editors made the selection. The magazine polled readers for their choice, and the winner was Egyptian general Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who didn’t make the top 10 of Time’s final list.
Last year’s person of the year was U.S. president Barack Obama; in 2011 it was the anonymous protester, and in 2010 it was Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg.