Why Pope Francis is Time's "Person of the Year"

Why Pope Francis is Time's "Person of the Year"

Today Time magazine named Pope Francis “Person of the Year” for 2013.

Why I’m not surprised:

Francis is a truly global figure, not just because he’s the head of a global religion but because of his radically different vision of the church and the papacy. As he put it, he sees the church first of all as a “field hospital” that has the primary task of healing people’s wounds. He favors dialogue over doctrine, closeness to the people over clericalism, mercy over judgment and joyful witness over cultural warfare. All this has struck a chord among contemporary Christians and non-Christians.

Catholics, to their surprise, have watched the pope take up the Vatican II agenda again, breathing new life into concepts of collegiality and lay participation. He’s even willing to survey Catholics when it comes to next big Vatican powwow on family issues.

From the standpoint of the news media, Francis is a perfect “person of the year” – a great communicator, combining plain-spoken preaching with gestures that communicate volumes, whether it be washing the tattooed foot of a young woman on Holy Thursday or embracing a man with a severe facial disfigurement at his general audience.

The pope’s attention to the world’s poor and marginalized is both personal and political. He’s visited with immigrants, refugees, prisoners and unemployed youths, and beefed up the Vatican’s own charity office, while denouncing the excesses of capitalism as a “new tyranny.” When a pope tells the world that “the culture of prosperity deadens us,” it is rightly seen as a challenge to the global economic system.

On issues of justice and peace, Francis wants to draw renewed attention to the Catholic Church’s impressive body of social teaching. True, he is not recommending a detailed political program. But he is proposing ethical principles that have political consequences. At the same time, he’s underlined the power of prayer, leading prayer initiatives for the cessation of fighting in Syria and for an end to world hunger.

Clearly, the pope wants to reclaim the church’s moral influence on the world stage. To do this, he knows he has to rebuild church credibility, and he’s taken that task on with energy. His council of cardinals to reform the Roman Curia, his various commissions to clean up Vatican finances and, most recently, his Vatican-level commission on clerical sexual abuse are all part of a serious effort to address chronic problems that have undermined the church’s moral voice.

These are huge undertakings, in response to equally huge challenges.

Finally, a big part of what makes Francis such a good choice for “person of the year” is his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The first papal resignation in modern history set the stage for a conclave that surprised everyone – well, just about everyone – by electing someone who has set the church on a new course.

At this point, Francis is being recognized more for the hopes he’s engendered than his accomplishments. But as the cover of Time confirms, he has definitely set important changes in motion.

UPDATE: Here's the official Vatican reaction today from spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

This fact is unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate. It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice.
With regard to the Pope, for his part, he does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all. If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as "Person of the Year" means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad.

20 comments (Add your own)

1. Lowell Rinker wrote:
John, so well said. Makes one excited and proud to be a Catholic....haven't been able to say that for quite some time.

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 7:22 AM

2. taad wrote:
The real reason they gave it to the Holy Father is they hope he will change church teaching on Marriage such as Contraception, divorce and remarriage, Gay unions, Abortion, and other issues. Once they are convinced none of this will change, they will turn on him.

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 8:57 AM

3. Luke wrote:
Are you saying that Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI (who were both actually at Vatican II) did not take up the Council's agenda?

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 8:58 AM

4. Gerard Jospehs wrote:
Just becasue we're on a new path doesnt mean its a good one. Much of what is talked about was tried from 1965-1978 and it left the church with empty seminaries and convents, catholic schools without a christian identity and theologians questioning even the rudiments of the faith. Most people dont bother even going to the "new" mass and thsoe that do dont even udnerstand what the mass is with recent surveys saying that 2/3 of catholics dont believe in the real presence.Is this our future again? This time the church wont survive a second dose of the "spirit of Vatican II".

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 11:23 AM

5. Rob B. wrote:
@taad -- Perhaps, but the media's granting of this honor will make its hypocritical rejection of him more obvious. You can, at least, take some comfort in that. :)

As for this honor being granted to the Holy Father, I hope that his influence will be felt deeply throughout America and the rest of the world. God sends us the popes we need (not necessarily the ones we want) and I think that when the history of the Church of our time is written, our last three popes will loom large as warriors against the perils of modernity.

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 3:21 PM

6. mary wrote:
@Taad: they are already convinced none of this will change and they love him anyway. In facts the only ones disappointed by Pope Francis are the conservatives and they are turning on him.

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 3:47 PM

7. Jose Puthenparambil wrote:
I am very glad to see how our Pope Francis, with his simplicity and compassion is well recognized by the Media. May he inspire the whole world and all layers of human life: cultural, political, economic, social and spiritual. Let everything experience true transformation through the vision and practice of the Pope..

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 6:05 PM

8. elcid wrote:
@Gerard Jospehs
Quit criticizing and pray for the Pope and the Church.

Matthew 16:18
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 6:38 PM

9. Sygurd wrote:
Guess who was Time's man of the year in 1938?

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 7:21 PM

10. Hal wrote:
Time, a typical lefty magazine, picked Francis because he is a man of the left on economic issues and has said things like "who am I to judge" on homosexuality, seems poised to allow communion for remarried Catholics (why float the Orthodox example trial balloon, otherwise) and badmouths conservatives. That's why. Time is atheistic, but sees Francis as useful to their agenda.

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 9:48 PM

11. linred wrote:
elcid, I totally agree with your comment above. Thank you for those words!!!

Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 9:57 PM

12. Yaya wrote:
I agree, elcid. Let us enjoy, along with Papa Francis, the moment and appreciate that our Heavenly Father is at work. May our Holy Father's witness bear much fruit and renew our faith, our beloved Church and bring many to Christ.

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 4:11 AM

13. PJ wrote:
James 4:4, "He who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God". This award is basically showing the pope's anti-Catholicity. Not a cause for celebration, Catholic folks

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 4:54 AM

14. Chesire11 wrote:
The reason for the decline in weekly mass attendance, and understanding of the faith has nothing to do with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and everything to do with the collapse of the Catholic educational system, and the wholesale abandonment of the duty of faith formation by the hierarchy. I grew up in the post Vatican II church, when faith formation was turned over to the confused mother of a classmate who delivered incoherent pablum at her kitchen table to bored students 45 minutes each week.

As Blessed John Paul II held of VII, it wasn't that the Council erred, but that the Church did a pathetic job of understanding and implementing the reforms that came out of the Council.

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 8:33 AM

15. Matthew Ogden wrote:
What is so critical about Pope Francis is that he hasn't set the Church on a new course. His predecessors have said all the same things he has said. It's a difference in style rather than substance: which is one of the reasons the media reactions are so absurd.

This is not an ecclesiastical revolution by any means, nor could such ever really take place. And those who wish it would be, or who took or still take shame in their Catholicism, commit a grave injustice against the faith. Your faith should be in God, not in the pope.

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 8:36 AM

16. Peter wrote:
Who needs the TIMES? Only a few years ago the media unwittingly picked the president of an unmoored North American nation before he pushed it further into decline. The media's self-staging endorsement this year is a swan song effort to capture some reflected glory, and subscriptions. The kingmakers are behind the times, so to speak. Editorial boards mean nothing to the Church or to this humble pope.

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 9:15 AM

17. Justin wrote:
I am a conservative Catholic. By that I simply mean that I believe all that the Church teaches in matters of faith and morals. I understand that not even the Pope can change fundamental Catholic truths or her moral teachings on abortion, gay marriage, contraception, etc. Having said that, I love Pope Francis and I am very excited about his pontificate. He certainly upholds all the Church's teachings, but he is presenting them in a more compassionate and pastoral way. He wants the world to see the face of a merciful God who reaches out to sinners with gentleness and love. Jesus asked St. Francis of Assisi to "go and rebuild my Church." It seems to me that this is what Francis is trying to do too. And the world is listening, at least for now.

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 1:33 PM

18. Becky wrote:
Jesus, Christianity, and Catholicism are not Left or Right, not liberal or conservative. That is part of the Pope's message, and why he is the choice for "Person of the Year".

Thu, December 12, 2013 @ 11:31 PM

19. Francesca wrote:
To Luke: the answer to your question is yes. Pope Francis' two immediate predecessors both did things to undo the changes adapted in Vatican II. Many believe that the disenchantment and the exodus of priests and religious happened when the Church, instead of moving forward, moved backward. Humane Vitae became the precipitating event that broke the camel's back (you may google search it). The powerful conservative in the Hierrarchy implemented restoration instead of transformation in the Church. Many of the ills that beset the Church today could be attributed to the heavy-handedness and authoritarian styles of the previous popes, especially JPII. Many Catholics and clergy felt like being treated like children - always reprimanded and punished, even for minor infractions; and no dialogue was allowed. Blind obedience was expected. Critical thinking thoroughly discouraged. That's why many left the Church in the last three decades or so. With Pope Francis now, there is more openness, like a fresh air coming into the Church again, thus the excitement of many but to the dismay of hardcore conservative hierarchy and clergy, and the lay. You can read all the cruel attacks on Pope Francis coming from the righ wing.

Fri, December 13, 2013 @ 12:46 AM

20. Don Schenk wrote:
Pope Francis recently wrote that he supports the teachings of Trent. He also, like his predecessors, supports the letter (as opposed to the 'spirit') of Vatican II.
Sorry, those of you who hate the true teachings of the Church.

Fri, December 13, 2013 @ 9:20 AM

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