Any list detailing the myriads of individuals responsible for changing history this year would be very long, if not impossible to compile. Choosing only five people to be the five people that changed history in 2013 will inevitably leave out many important contributors and ignore the fact that the many historically significant events that took place this year were brought about by the actions of many nameless people rather than a single, famed person. After all, as Robert Kennedy wrote, “few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” Yet, regardless, those people whose names inhabit this list brought important changes in how people see the world, view their governments, and view conflict.
(1) Pope Francis, formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires
Writing for Time Magazine, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote that the new pope was just what the Catholic church needed. “The 100,000 people who were gathered in St. Peter’s Square that chilly evening of March 13, drawn by the legendary white smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, wondered what the first words of the 266th successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis, would be. Certainly something profound, theological, cerebral …,” wrote Dolan. However, Pope Francis began his speech with the simple words: “Brothers and sisters, good evening!” And, “with that friendly greeting, this newly elected earthly leader of the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics began to enchant us. It got even better when, a minute later, he bowed down and asked the throng to bless him,” wrote Dolan.
Words can be very powerful, and the pope’s simple greeting, as impressive as it was to Dolan, were far from the most significant words that he hased utter in the few months since he entered the Vatican. Last month, he made a strong case against neoliberalism. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ’thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” wrote Pope Francis in an apostolic exhortation published by the Vatican Press. “Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” His words may have little effect on the policies of any head of state or central bank chair, but his appeal for social justice inspired the world.