One year ago, he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Today he is Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, and Time magazine’s Person of the Year. He is not the first Pope to be awarded Person of the Year; John Paul II was 1994′s, and John XXIII had the honor in 1962.
Time is calling Pope Francis “The People’s Pope,” praising him for taking the name of “a humble saint,” St. Francis of Assisi. In a video accompanying the announcement, Time contributor Howard Chua-Eoan explained why Pope Francis was selected. Chua-Eoan said it went beyond the historic choice of a Pope from the New World and Latin America.
In determining who will be the Person of the Year, the editors at Time consider the “person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.” The other candidates under consideration by Time for 2013 were: Edward Snowden, Edith Windsor, Bashar Assad, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Pope Francis “comes at a time when the church seemed to be needing a huge burst of energy,” with incredible “charisma” for a man who is 77 years old, Chua-Eoan said. He then commented on the Pope’s humble nature and unexpected actions. Whether washing the feet of convicts, or holding a mass for immigrants, the Pope has surprised people with how open and accepting he is.
“He is especially caring about the poor,” Chua-Eoan stated. “That is his strongest message.” It was his actions and openness, signaling a Pope willing to reach out to anyone “who is lonely, who needs an embrace,” that contributed to Time‘s decision.
A recent announcement by the Pope embodies these characteristics. Using what the Vatican called an “unprecedented video message,” Pope Francis made an appeal to end global hunger. “Today, I am happy to announce to you the launch of a campaign against global hunger by our very own Caritas Internationalis and to tell you that I intend to give my full support,” Pope Francis said. The Pope explained that it is a “a global scandal” that one billion people suffer from hunger. “We cannot look the other way and pretend this does not exist. The food available in the world is enough to feed everyone.”
Pope Francis is reaching out to those in need and not turning his back on groups who have traditionally been condemned in the eyes of the church. When asked about gay priests, he responded “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time discussed the decision on MSNBC‘s Morning Joe. When asked why Pope Francis was selected, Gibbs said “because he has, in a very short time, changed the tone, and the focus, and the perception of one of the world’s largest institutions, and committed to confronting some of the deepest challenges of our time. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen anyone capture people’s imagination so broadly and deeply so quickly, as this Pope has, far beyond the reach of the Catholic church.”
Chua-Eoan picked up on this theme as well. The Pope has given “so many people, so much hope and inspiration in the last nine months, it’s only been nine months, no one else has done that this year,” Chua-Eoan stated.
Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi S.J., said in a response that the news was “unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate.”
Lombardi went on to add that, “One of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press” being given to a person who “proclaims spiritual, religious, and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice,” was an encouraging sign.
The Pope “does not seek fame and success,” rather, he hopes this will bring hope to men and women. “If this nomination as ‘Person of the Year’ means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad,” Lombardi concluded. Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936 and was ordained on December 13, 1969. Prior to that, he taught literature and psychology at two colleges.