Pope Francis has been named Person of the Year by Time magazine, beating NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who was runner-up.
The Catholic Church’s new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.
During his nine months in office, the Pope had pulled “the papacy out of the palace and into the streets”, managing editor Nancy Gibbs said, calling the Pope “a new voice of conscience.”
“In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power,” she said. “When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church,” Ms. Gibbs wrote.
“Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly – young and old, faithful and cynical,” she added.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the then cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, was made Pope last March. He named himself Francis after a 12th Century Italian saint who turned his back on an aristocratic lifestyle to work with the poor.
Since then, he has eschewed some of the more regal trappings of high office, made headlines by washing the feet of prisoners, and is planning some major reforms to the Church.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was “a positive sign” that one of the international media’s most prestigious recognitions had been given to “a person who proclaims.. spiritual, religious and moral values and speaks out forcefully in favour of peace and greater justice”.
“The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honours,” said Mr 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.”
This is the third time a Pope has received the recognition from Time magazine. John Paul II was selected in 1994 and John XXIII was chosen in 1962.
Besides Mr Snowden, this year’s other finalists were US gay rights activist Edith Windsor, US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.