Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013. The magazine chose the pope in part for his work on redefining the mission of the Catholic Church. His eschewing of the riches and expensive perks afforded to other popes has been a refreshing change for Catholics worldwide who were beginning to turn away from the Vatican and the Catholic Church.
Since it first began naming a “Person of the Year” in 1927, a pope has been chosen by Time twice before. In 1994, Pope John Paul II was given the honor and Pope John XXIII received it in 1963. Pope Francis was the first non-European pope to be elected in the past 1300 years as well as being the first Jesuit and the first Latin American.
Before being elected as pontiff, Pope Francis served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was known for ministering to the poor as well as for his refusal to take economic advantage of his position, deciding to use the subway for travel instead of a luxury car. His attention to the poor of Buenos Aires earned him the nickname “slum cardinal.”
Finalists of this year’s award included Edith Windsor, a gay rights activist, Edward Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Texan senator Ted Cruz and the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
In the cover story, Time noted that “In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church — the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world — above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors.”
After considering suggestions from its 2 million-plus Twitter followers, the editors of Time selected Pope Francis as their “Person of the Year.”
Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, addressed the honor in a statement in which he assured Catholics worldwide that their pope was not seeking to become famous, but “if this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is happy. If this choice of ‘Person of the Year’ means that many have understood this message, even implicitly, he is certainly glad.”
The pope’s first year as head of the Catholic Church was notable for the inroads taken by Pope Francis in modernizing the church doctrine to reflect today’s society. He has also been less rigid and more forgiving to groups that in the past have been damned by the church. Francis has communicated his desire for the Vatican to become more compassionate and to stop its intense focus on contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
In a statement that represented an important shift from the doctrine of his predecessor, Benedict, Pope Francis related that he does not have the authority to judge those homosexuals seeking God in good will. Benedict, who abdicated the position in March, had stated publicly that to be gay was to have an intrinsic disorder.
Other differences include a new emphasis on being frugal. Instead of residing in the large papal residence inside of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Francis chose to live in a Vatican guest house suite. When traveling, he prefers to use a Ford Focus in lieu of the traditional Mercedes.
The pope has also humbled himself publicly by washing inmates’ feet at a prison in Rome. The name Francis was chosen by the pope in honor of St. Francis and represents his special concern for children suffering disabilities.
The Catholic Church remains plagued by recent scandals involving sex abuse by its priests and the systematic cover-up of the abuse by church officials. Thursday, Pope Francis, Time’s “Person of the Year,” addressed the scandal head-on, forming an expert team tasked with improving the way the church screens its priests in order to protect children and aid victims of sexual abuse by priests.
By Jennifer Pfalz